WAHOO – Saunders County residents have some work to do to help their communities.

The 2020 Census is still underway, but time is running out to fill out the forms.

While Saunders County went from ranking 71st in percentage of census responses in March to 53rd as of May 31, only 55.9 percent of residents have filled out their census forms and returned them so far, according to the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research and the Nebraska State Data Center, where David Drodz is research coordinator.

Residents who live in the largest cities in Saunders County have an even lower percentage of responses. Wahoo and Ashland come in at Nos. 49 and 50, respectively on the list of cities with populations above 2,500 in the state. Wahoo has a 54.7 percent response rate, compared to 53.7 in Ashland. Yutan, which has just over 1,800 residents and was not on the list, has only a 48 percent response rate, Drodz said.

It is difficult to know why Saunders County is doing so poorly, Drodz said. The numbers have been low ever since the bureau started releasing response data in late March and have not caught up.

“Surprisingly they are lower than Lexington, South Sioux City, Crete, etc. that have more challenges in their count,” he said.

It is not too late to change those percentages, however. Drodz said the Census Bureau will take self-responses through Oct. 31.

“The sooner the better, though, and we want households to have responded by early August, as that’s when our door-to-door interviewing will begin,” he said.

Home visits are costly to the bureau, and ultimately the taxpayer, Drodz said. They are also less reliable because the respondents might be distracted by home chores or a crying baby, and are less likely to give the most accurate information.

The best scenario is to take your time and do the survey yourself, at your own pace, Drodz said.

“If people self-respond, an in-person interview is not necessary,” he added.

The U.S. Census Bureau, in coordination with federal, state and local health officials, began a phased restart of some field operations in Nebraska in mid-May.

As part of the phased restart, the Census Bureau will deliver 2020 Census invitations and paper questionnaires at the front doors of roughly 30,300 households that do not receive mail at their home.

This operation is known as “Update Leave,” where census workers will confirm or update a household’s physical location address and then leave a census questionnaire packet.

This includes people who have their mail delivered to a post office box, Drodz said, and is generally just a small portion of the households in Lancaster, Cass and Saunders counties.

The Census Bureau began delivering census materials to these households on March 15; however, this operation was suspended on March 18 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Update Leave operation does not require interaction between households and a Census Bureau employee and follows current federal health and safety guidelines.

Households that receive the 2020 Census invitation packets are strongly encouraged to respond promptly using the census ID included in the questionnaire packet. People can respond online, by phone or by completing and returning the paper form by mail. Responding with the census ID or by completing and returning the paper questionnaire helps ensure the best count of the community, Drodz said.

If people have lost or misplaced their census form with the unique ID number, they can still fill out the census online at my2020census.gov using their address, Drodz said. Or they can do it over the phone at 844-330-2020 (English) or 844-468-2020 (Spanish).

It takes only a few minutes to fill out the census forms, but the information has a big impact on daily life. Drodz said the census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and is every citizen’s civic duty to complete.

“It allows each person the chance for their voice to be heard as they stand up to be counted,” he said.

The cost to the state of missing just one person in the census is about $20,000 and entire household as much as $50,000, Drodz said.

“Moreover, federal funds flow back to state and local areas from population-based funding formulas,” Drodz said. “So when a person or household is missed, we lose out on our fair share of dollars for programs that address challenges and improve our quality of life (for roads, food assistance, health insurance, etc.),” he said.

Data from the University of Nebraska at Omaha shows that in 2016, Nebraska received $3.995 billion in federal funds based upon the 2010 Census figures and subsequent annual population estimates. That breaks down to $2,096 per Nebraska resident.

Once the census results are released on Dec. 31, the data will be used to draw political districts that are based upon population, including local city council wards, state legislative districts and U.S. congressional districts. Census figures are also used in funding formulas for education, Medicaid, disaster recovery and infrastructure.

Private businesses also use census data. Manufacturers turn to census counts to gauge the availability of the local workforce when looking to build a new factory in an area. Health care facilities consider census data when determining where to build new facilities or add health care resources.

“The census also tells us how population is changing, such as aging, rising diversity and home ownership trends,” said Drodz.

Statewide, Nebraska has a 66.7 percent response rate, which puts the Cornhusker state at No. 5. Minnesota leads the way with 70.2 percent, followed by Wisconsin (67.7), Iowa (67.2) and Michigan (67).

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