The federal census is still more than a year away, but Idaho Falls officials are already working to make sure their residents are counted.
Two representatives of the U.S. Census Bureau in Idaho met Thursday with the Idaho Falls City Council and other city employees to brief them on steps they can take to make sure all residents are counted in the 2020 census. Idaho Falls was one of several eastern Idaho cities that Jayne Black and Mark Sunderland, the partnership experts for the Census Bureau in Idaho, visited to help build trust in the process and increase turnout.
Census numbers and populations are a key factor in how federal funding is distributed. Idaho received more than $2.4 billion in program funding after the previous census, which averaged out to $1,473 annually for every resident. Given the region’s rapid population growth over the last few years, the new census could result in a funding boost for road work, Medicaid and school lunch programs.
“It’s important for us to have accurate numbers so we can get as much funding as the formulas allow,” Mayor Rebecca Casper said.
The census also has political implications, as a shifting population can change the number of representatives a state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives or the number of representatives that counties have in the state Legislature.
“If Bonneville County has grown 10 percent, can you imagine the redistribution that could happen as a result of that in the state Legislature?” Black asked.
The hottest issue around the census remains the proposed questions about citizenship. A federal judge ruled against the addition of the question to the census in January, but the Trump administration is likely to appeal the issue as the Supreme Court hears arguments this month. Several city officials voiced concerns during the meeting about how severely that question could impact the census results for the city and its residents.
“I don’t want to get people in a difficult position by asking them to participate and having it backfire on them,” council member Jim Francis said.
Black and Sunderland said they did not know whether the question would end up on the final list of questions but it was included in the paperwork given out at the meeting. They did stress that all answers are self-reported, so the Bureau would not follow up on the answers people gave about their status, and individual responses will not be provided to other agencies.
One of the biggest aspects that Black focused on during her presentation was the need for Idaho Falls and other regions to form a Complete Count Committee. The committee would combine city officials and community leaders with representatives of as many hard-to-reach groups as possible to have them work together on how to best encourage those groups to take part in the census.
“We’re looking for you to identify those organizations in the community,” Black said.
The Hispanic population was among the groups listed as a hard-to-reach concern, though no Latino representatives were in the room for the meeting. Other groups mentioned as possible worries for the city include the Native American tribes in the region and the homeless population, some of which Black and other officials had already reached out to.
Casper said she hoped to organize a committee for the city within the next few months to begin promoting the census at events over the summer.
The meeting also emphasized the new technology and techniques being deployed this year. The Census Bureau offices would provide mobile registration sites for rural communities to gather at, a phone line with more than a dozen language options and door-to-door canvassers armed with tablets instead of paper ballots. Mail-in responses will become the last resort for the process instead of the default option.