COLUMBIA — In 2000, Missouri's census response rate topped the nation's average, but with federal funding and more at stake, Boone County and Columbia officials are determined to see every resident counted.
City and county leaders met Friday afternoon with U.S. Census Bureau officials to launch the Columbia 2010 Census Awareness Campaign, a campaign designed to remind all members of Boone County to complete and return their census forms upon receipt and to remind their friends, family and neighbors to do the same.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Missouri had a 69 percent return rate for the 2000 census. The national average was 67 percent. The lowest return rate was 53 percent in Puerto Rico, and the highest was 76 percent in Iowa.
Mayor Darwin Hindman said that counting every individual living in the area is critical for the allocation of both federal and state funds.
Hindman said Boone County is mobilized to educate all residents how to fill out and return the forms and why it is critical to do so.
“If you don’t bother, don’t complain about the government,” he said.
The federal government will allocate $400 billion in 2010 for public services such as schools, roads, reserves emergency relief efforts and public transportation, and the amount apportioned to cities is based on census figures.
Census figures could also cost Missouri a congressional seat and result in redistricting.
Locally, census figures could affect new business if the area is seen as too small for investment.
But government and city officials are determined to see every individual counted.
Hindman said the multi-pronged campaign will engage historically undercounted segments of the community such as minority groups, senior citizens and low-income families through trusted members of those communities such as faith based organizations, civic groups, schools and doctor’s offices.
Ronni Watkins of the U.S. Census Bureau said that studies on response patterns revealed that the likelihood of people completing their forms is much better when those motivating them to do so are people they trust.
“You know these people,” she said. “They’re your neighbors, friends and coworkers.”
One community leader expressed concern that residents with disabilities won't have the opportunity to indicate their disability on the census form.
Homer Page, chairman of the Columbia Disabilities Commission, said the omission could cost those with disabilities the public assistance they need.
“I’m not afraid for the loss of data, but for a recognition of the importance of identifying disabled people,” Page said.
He said that not having that information could, for example, effect the number of handicap-accessible housing units made available in the area and the availability of public transportation.
Watkins said disabled residents would have the opportunity to report their disability on the long-form census questionnaire that is distributed at random every year.