Economic Development Coordinator Danelle Berg said at the meeting of the May 27 Board of County Commissioners on Monday that it's vital Otero County gets as many residents to participate in the 2020 census as possible, as the county's eligibility for future grants and other forms of federal funding hinges on an accurate and full count of the county's population.

Berg said a census group from the U.S. Census Bureau attended the Southeast Colorado Enterprise Development meeting of May 22 to inform the non-profit corporation of details regarding the 2020 national census.

Media specialist Cassie Heykoop from the U.S. Census Bureau said to the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in an email that mail surveys are one of several ways to take the census survey in 2020.

"In 2020, people living in the U.S. will be able to respond by mail, in person, online or over the phone," said Heykoop. "People will receive census forms in the mail and can respond any way they choose."

The census is so important because it is the baseline that determines all federal funding, Berg said.

"All of our federal funding is based on the number of people in our state," said Berg. "Not just people, but children, low to moderate income, ethnicity, all of that. Every federal penny is based on the census."

Renee Martinez from the U.S. Census Bureau said at the May 22 SECED meeting that a miscount in 2010's census costed Colorado "hundreds of millions of dollars" and a seat in the federal Congress, according to Berg, who reiterated the need to get as accurate a count as possible next year.
Among demographics that were undercounted in the 2010 census include children under the age of five, Berg said at the BOCC meeting.

Responsibility for forming census outreach designed to inform residents of and assist them with the upcoming census falls on the county's shoulders.

"The counties would be involved in advertising, small groups, canvassing, those sorts of things in order to get the information out," said Berg.

Berg indicated that each county is expected to form a census committee through which to direct outreach efforts.

"One of the things they said was ... if I had a student in college and they were at the junior college in Sterling during the census, they would be counted there and Logan County would get credit for my student being in Logan County versus in Otero County. They'll spend nine months there that one year and then come home."

Berg described the logistics of the census count regarding away-college students as a "big bone of contention" for members of SECED. Berg said the organization plans to boycott that aspect of the census.

Commissioner John Hostetler asked Berg if the U.S. Census Bureau had any plans to ensure that disenfranchised persons without reliable internet or telephone access were able to take the census survey. Berg said they do have plans in place to visit nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes.

Melissa Mata from the Colorado Municipal League told Berg in an email shared with the La Junta Tribune-Democrat that as a member of the statewide Complete Count Campaign, she was taught that while the first mailing regarding the census that people receive will only be an invitation to participate, and not the survey itself, there is an option to request a mail-in survey.

According to the official 2020 census website, census participation invitations should be received by households by April 1, 2020.

Berg suggested that the county could open a room at the courthouse to provide a space with laptops where residents could take the census, or organize something with Otero Junior College to hold public census sessions on weekday evenings. But Berg admitted that even if the county took such steps, there would still be a plethora of disenfranchised persons without the means or knowledge to access the census survey, let alone fill it out.

"Even if the county opened our room here and had several laptops to invite people in and do the census, or we could work with the college, especially if it's going to be April when this is all happening, they're going to be full with students, but perhaps several evenings during a certain week the data center is open and we can ask people to come in and take the census information at that point.

On that note Commissioner Keith Goodwin said, "We're building ourselves to be under counted again."

Berg said it's up to the county to figure out how to facilitate an accurate census count, although the U.S. Census Bureau will send teams to collect surveys from persons who failed to participate in a timely manner. Approximately 38,000 temporary jobs will be created to complete the federal census count, said Berg.

"38,000 people will be hired, 18 years and older, some tech savvy would be nice ... for summer jobs in order to complete the census," said Berg. "(The job will pay) higher than minimum wage and $0.58 a mile for travel. Short term, but ...  there's some opportunities next summer for that."

The census count is April 1, 2020, and the nationwide due date for data collection will be that August.