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ST. LOUIS — Less than six months from now, surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau will start hitting inboxes and mailboxes across the nation.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2020 Census:

  • All persons in the U.S., regardless of citizenship or immigration status, should be counted at their place of residence as of April 1. That means, for example, if you’re away from home at college, you’ll be counted there.
  • The census survey asks nine basic questions: your name, age, sex, birthdate, race, whether you are of Hispanic origin, the number of people living in your home on April 1, whether the home is rented or owned, and your phone number. There is no citizenship question.
  • For the first time, you can respond online. People will receive invitations, beginning March 12, to fill out their Census forms by mail, by phone or online. Beginning March 16, reminder letters will be sent. A reminder postcard will follow that, followed by a reminder letter and a paper questionnaire. A final reminder postcard will be sent at the end of April, before canvassers begin in-person counting.

Alex Rankin, government affairs manager at the Missouri Foundation for Health, said the request for a phone number may be met with concern from some people.

Only 45% of rural Missourians said they’d provide their phone number, she said. Rankin urges the other 55% to do so.

“It can help with verification,” Rankin said at a recent informational session for the media. “The Census Bureau will try to reach you by telephone before they knock on your door.”

Rankin — whose organization is serving as headquarters for the #MissouriCounts campaign — also noted the legal protections in place for census data. The Census Bureau cannot share information with the U.S. Department of Justice, for example, or any other federal agency. Information collected on a census form cannot be used against the respondent in a legal proceeding. Both of these protections are enshrined in federal statutes.

In 2010, Missouri lost a congressional seat because of census results. The foundation also found in its research that for every adult or child not counted, the state lost $1,300 every year in federal funding. The funding goes to a variety of public services, including roads, bridges, hospitals and schools.

Businesses rely on census data to decide where to put new shops and stores. Academics use it to research social issues.

There are 2,000 fewer canvassers available this year for follow-up counting than there were compared to the 2010 Census. The Census Bureau hopes to eliminate the need to canvass every block by using data from a variety of sources to better plan canvassing.

As always, undercounts are on the minds of census workers everywhere. Typically, groups that are undercounted include the poor, renters and the disabled.

To make sure people in those populations get counted, the Census Bureau is hiring thousands of temporary employees. To find out more, head to 2020census.gov/jobs.

In addition to the Missouri Foundation for Health’s efforts, there are several parallel efforts designed to encourage participation. Gov. Mike Parson launched the Missouri 2020 Complete Count Committee; St. Louis and St. Louis County also have similar groups.

Blake Hamilton, vice president of programs at the International Institute of St. Louis, serves on both the city and county committees, and also on one specifically aimed at immigrants and nonnative speakers. That committee, which is still open to new groups and members, is a collaborative effort between the institute, the Immigrant Service Providers Network and a collection of other St. Louis-area community groups considered to be service providers trusted by immigrants.

“When an organization a person knows or trusts is providing the information around the census, it is received differently than when the federal government is broadcasting it widely,” Hamilton said. The trusted messengers can tailor and adjust information as they see fit, based on their experience working with immigrants.

In addition to the usual undercount concerns, this year in Missouri, canvassers and the foundation’s media campaign will go head-to-head with presidential primary messaging in the spring. The Missouri presidential primary will be held March 10, near the time when surveys begin to go out.

“So we’ll be competing for airtime,” Rankin said.

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