A survey worth your time

By Elliott Smith | Guest Column

It’s time to get counted, Iowa – the 2020 United States Census is underway. Every Iowan is being asked to complete a simple 10-question survey that will be used to determine such things as Iowa’s representation in Congress and how much the state receives through federal spending programs for the next decade.  Due to the coronavirus, the census response deadline has been extended to Oct.31.

Iowa traditionally has one of the highest census response rates. In 2010, 79% of Iowans responded voluntarily, the third highest in the nation. In 2000, 82% submitted answers, ranking the state second best. The goal for 2020 is to be No. 1.

As Iowa approaches a 70% response rate for 2020, the State Complete Count Committee has launched a “Key to the Future” challenge to encourage every one of Iowa’s 942 municipalities and 99 counties to get their residents counted.

“From disaster relief to representation in Congress, the census plays an important role in protecting Iowa’s future,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds. “Iowans take our civic responsibility seriously and I hope everyone will do their part and participate in the 2020 census.” Key to the Future response rate challenge details can be found at governor.iowa.gov/2020-census.

New to the census for 2020 is the ability for people to submit answers online. They can also mail in the traditional paper survey or provide answers over the phone. Those not responding initially will have the chance to do so later in-person with an official census taker.

In fiscal year 2016, Iowa received nearly $8.8 billion through 55 federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 census.  Medicaid and Medicare, student loans, supplemental nutrition assistance, housing construction, highway planning and construction, school breakfasts and lunches, public transportation, energy assistance, and education needs are just a few of the many instances where federal funding assists Iowans.

Not only does the census guide congressional redistricting, it is also a foundation to state and local representative government. Census data helps a community get its fair share of the nearly $700 billion in federal funds spent annually in the United States on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs. Businesses use the information to decide where to build factories, offices and stores, which creates jobs. Developers use the census to build new homes and revitalize old neighborhoods.  Local governments use the data for public safety and emergency preparedness. Residents use the census to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life and consumer advocacy.

It’s important to note that federal law protects census responses. Information cannot be shared with immigration officials, law enforcement agencies, or used to determine eligibility of individuals for government benefits. Answers can only be used to produce general statistics.

So, what’s at stake should there be an undercount of the 2020 census? Back in 2010, missing 1% of Iowans (30,464 people) would cost the state nearly $39 million in available federal funding – just from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services alone.

Ultimately, the success of the 2020 census depends on everyone’s participation. An accurate tally is critically important to you and your community. When the time arrives be sure and get counted, Iowa. •

Elliott Smith is a member of the Iowa Complete Count Census Committee, and a former executive director of the Iowa Business Council.