BY PAUL TUSS
Montanans, along with all Americans, will soon be asked to do something we haven’t done in a decade — fill out our Census form.
Every 10 years since 1790, citizens throughout the United States help determine how federal funds are distributed and how we are represented in the halls of Congress.
Beginning this month, all Montanans will be asked to respond to the 2020 Census by answering nine simple survey questions. For the first time ever, households can respond online at 2020census.gov. It’s an easy way to make your voice heard and your household counted. You can also respond via mail or phone.
In addition to determining representation in the U.S. House of Representatives (Montana is on the cusp of gaining an additional seat), Census figures are used extensively by the federal government to allocate funds for everything from highways and other infrastructure to schools and health care. In all, some 300 federal programs rely on Census figures to allocate funds to local communities, including cities, towns, counties, and reservations here in northern Montana.
It is estimated that over the 10-year period between Census counts, $20,000 in funds per person will be allocated by the federal government for local priorities. This amounts to a phenomenal $700 million just in the five-county region that is served by Bear Paw Development Corporation. Can you imagine what our communities would look like without the $700 million we have received over the past decade?
Census Day is April 1, 2020. It is important to be counted where you live on that day. One example includes college students attending MSU-Northern and living in Havre. While their hometown may be someplace else, if they are living in Havre on April 1, they should be counted in Havre. Another example is parents who share custody of their children. Those children should be counted where they live on April 1.
The Census is the easiest way to bring federal dollars to our rural area and our local communities. If we don’t have an accurate count, we will lose receiving our fair share of funds from the federal government for an entire decade. It means instead of funding roads, bridges, schools, and health care in northern Montana, those dollars will flow elsewhere.
The Census Bureau is required to protect your data and ensure it remains private. Census employees are sworn to protect the data they collect for life, under penalty of jail and significant fines. So, responding to the Census is not only important but it’s safe.
I count. You count. Newborns count. Senior citizens count. College students count. Farmers count. Ranchers count. We all count.
When asked to respond to the 2020 Census, be sure to be counted.
Paul Tuss is the executive director of Bear Paw Development Corporation and past president of the Montana Economic Developers Association.