On Monday afternoon, members of the Senate Rules Committee learned about the importance of census participation and the negative impact that can occur from under reporting. Presentations were made by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan, requested the interim study to learn how census counts impact Oklahoma.
“The census is extremely important for our state and plays a vital role in Oklahoma’s future growth. It’s imperative that all Oklahomans do their best to complete the survey so we can get an accurate picture of possible future needs,” Scott said. “The census determines and impacts many areas from congressional representation to qualifying for federal funding and grants. We want to encourage citizens to apply to work the upcoming census and help us spread the word to ensure high participation across the state.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 76 percent of Oklahoma households mailed back their 2010 census questionnaire accounting for a significant undercount.
Brent Kisling, the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which is leading the state’s census efforts, explained that participation rates have a major impact on economic development. Businesses use the census when deciding where to locate or expand. It also impacts cities, counties and the state overall when applying for various grants and other federal funding.
Daniel Billingsley, vice president of external affairs at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, pointed out that an undercount of just two percent could cost the state as much as $1.8 billion over ten years in lost economic development and federal funding. Every citizen not counted in the census costs the state approximately $1,800 per year in lost federal funding for ten years.
George State University reported that based on the 2010 Census, Oklahoma received in FY’2016 just over $9.36 billion through 55 federal spending programs including, among others, Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, CDBG, national school lunch programs, Pell grants, highway planning and construction grants, and HUD grants.
Leaders are most concerned with getting an accurate count of children and other underrepresented populations like minorities, transient or homeless individuals and those with disabilities. Nationwide, an estimated five percent of children under the age of five, roughly one million children, were among those not counted, the highest of any age group.
Joe Dorman, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, pointed out that for the first time, citizens will be able to take the census online, by phone or through mail. However, in 2017, nearly 23 percent of Oklahoma households had no internet or only had dial-up. Dorman said the nonprofit community will be partnering with local libraries and other entities to ensure all Oklahomans are aware of their options to be counted.
The presenters also stressed the importance of having enough census workers in the state and encouraged Oklahomans to apply. Applications are now being accepted for full-time and part-time positions. The application can be found at https://2020census.gov/jobs.
“Nearly 25 percent of Oklahoma households weren’t counted in the last census, which cost us tens of millions of dollars in federal funding that are desperately needed in our communities,” Scott said. “Part of increasing participation is having sufficient census workers so if you could use some extra cash, we strongly encourage you to apply. You will be doing a tremendous service for your state.”
Citizens will get a postcard with a link to the census questionnaire in mid-March 2020. Once citizens respond, they will receive no further correspondence. If no response is submitted, another reminder postcard will be sent out between August and September 2020 and then an in-person visit may be conducted if possible.
Presentations from the study (IS-2019-50) can be found on the Senate website (www.oksenate.gov) under “Committees” and “Interim Studies”.