SOUTHERN INDIANA — The U.S. Census Bureau is stepping up efforts this week to ensure an accurate count in 2020.

Starting Monday, the bureau is coordinating with officials at the federal, state and local levels for operation Update Leave. The effort will see 2020 Census questionnaire packets directly dropped off at nearly 40,000 Hoosier households.

Hand-delivery services were previously suspended March 18 after the coronavirus pandemic complicated fieldwork activities. The postponement prevented many rural households that do not receive ma i l at their physical address from receiving census materials.

Over 400 residents in the area will be affected by the new initiative, with 372 residences in Clark County and 62 in Floyd County. The deliveries will be in line with CDC guidelines, with Census employees wearing personal protective equipment and limiting personal contact.

The national self-response rate for materials so far is 59.5%. That figure is a little higher in Indiana, at 64.3% Clark and Floyd counties both have higher rates, at 67.7% and 70.9%, respectively.

“It’s very important we get everybody counted,” Floyd County Commissioner President Shawn Carruthers said. “It’s not just the government seeing who lives here or getting into your business.. A lot of decisions are tied to that. I definitely encourage people to get that in so we can get what we need in the area.”

The Census has far-reaching implications for communities across the country. Demographic data has an impact on the operations of local governing bodies and how they interact with those at the federal and state level.

Population counts can help guide the amount of money pumped into an area and how it is used. Clark County Commissioner President Jack Coffman said that a low response rate can lead to a loss of billions of dollars that otherwise would’ve been distributed throughout different parts of the country.

Accurate counts can be especially crucial to rural communities, like those set to be served by Update Leave, as solid numbers can lead to more robust social programs.

“I can tell you there are certain parts of our county that are underserved when it comes to getting assistance or help,” Coffman said. “I know the northwest part of the county is kind of an underserved area, like Borden and closer to the Washington County line. It’s the same when you look at 
the northeast area of the county, which is the area north of Charlestown. Hopefully in this Census, [the response rate] will go up quite a bit. There are a lot of government programs that don’t get distributed properly.”

When an area isn’t counted properly, it can lead to discrepancies in how election districts are drawn up, and how grants are distributed. This is especially true, Coffman and Carruthers agreed, in a growing region like Southern Indiana.

Since the 2000 Census , Floyd Count y ’s population has risen from roughly 70,000 to nearly 80,000, while Clark County’s has ballooned by over 20,000.

“The more people we have, the more strain we put on county government,” Carruthers said. With that growth comes a shift in the economic landscape, as well. Over time, the area has shifted away from rural to more urban and suburban types of growth.

Such a change can impact the options a community has to fund improvements to infrastructure.

“The more accurate the Census is gives a better read of what the economic picture is of the area,” Coffman said. “We have so many families moving to this area or growing in this area... [Federal agencies] need to have a good understanding of the economic levels. When we apply for grants, we have to do a wage study for a lot of grant approvals. If those aren’t accurate, it could be the difference between whether you get a grant or not.”

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