I know we can all agree that 2020 has been a challenging year, perhaps the most challenging year in a long time for many of us. This year is also important for many reasons, including that the federal government is conducting the 2020 decennial Census. This once-a-decade event is critically important for those of us who live in Montana, including here on the Hi-Line. As mandated in the Constitution, the Census works to count every resident of the United States and is used to determine representation in Congress as well as how hundreds of billions of dollars from the federal government is distributed every year.
For rural Montana, an accurate Census assures we get our fair share of federal funds for important priorities like infrastructure, education and health care. These funds are critical for a large state like ours, especially given our relatively low population of just over a million people. Without Census-related federal funding, our local and state taxes would have to increase significantly, or we would simply go without. Neither option is very pleasant.
While completing the Census is as easy as it’s ever been, much of rural Montana lags behind our urban counterparts in response rate. If you have yet to respond to the Census, go to https://my2020census.gov/. It takes just ten minutes and you won’t have to do it again for another decade!
Although we all have an individual obligation to do our part and complete the Census, the federal government announced recently that they are reducing the time to collect responses, count people, by a full month, from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. Amidst the chaos and real health concerns associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for Census workers to collect in-person responses for those who have yet to respond online or by phone, especially for hard-to-count populations.
The numbers confirm this difficulty. As of this writing, only 58 percent of Montanans have self-responded to the Census, and some of our rural counties are significantly lower. Blaine County has a 32 percent response rate, in Phillips County it is 33 percent and Liberty County’s self-response rate is at 42 percent. Meagher County, in central Montana, has only a 29 percent response rate.
We clearly need to do better, but we also need the time to do better. By simply adhering to the original Census count deadline of Oct. 31, it will give our rural areas, frontier communities, Indian reservations and other hard-to-count areas the time needed, and the time originally allotted, to complete this important once-in-a-decade obligation.
Montana’s congressional delegation should strongly demand that the federal government assure a full, accurate Census count by allowing counting to continue through October, which was the original deadline. It is only through a full count that our state will receive the resources it is entitled to over the coming decade.
If you agree, contact our members of Congress today: Senator Jon Tester: 202-224-2644; Senator Steve Daines: 202-224-2651; Representative Greg Gianforte: 202-225-3211.