Idaho’s rural counties may not have accurate Census count by October 5 deadline

It has been crunch time in Idaho for many Census Bureau employees as the deadline to respond to the 2020 census approaches. The new deadline to wrap up census counting is Oct. 5, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced Monday.

According to the Census Bureau, 99% of Idahoans have been counted in the 2020 census, though Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said what the overall percentage doesn’t show are the rural counties in the state that are still scrambling to get residents to respond.

The Idaho Press reports a correct count is crucial because it determines congressional representation, state legislative boundaries and federal funding for efforts such as school nutrition and housing and tuition assistance. Each person who answers the census secures nearly $15,000 in funding for Idaho over the next 10 years, Census Bureau representatives told the Idaho Press earlier this year.

Toone said the census “took a backseat” in rural communities as they tried to figure out what life would look like during the pandemic. Some census workers in her district told her about their experiences getting doors shut in their face or being criticized for wearing a mask, Toone said.

Toone said in a text message Monday that she hoped the deadline would be extended an extra month.

“(This) is truly what is needed,” she said. ‘We need to stick to a set plan to have the chance of getting an accurate count.”

Antonio Hernandez, with Conservation Voters of Idaho, has been working with Latino and farmworker advocate organizations to ensure Idaho’s Latinos, among the identified “hard-to-count” communities, are counted.

Hernandez helped launch a bilingual website in February, contamosidahocensus.org, to help Spanish-speaking Idahoans respond to and understand the census.

Since the novel coronavirus hit Idaho, Hernandez said the group of advocacy organizations decided to focus on distributing bilingual ads about the census, to make phone calls and send text messages and to advertise on Spanish radio. All of this outreach replaced the in-person outreach the group was originally planning to do.

“Our goal was to exceed the 2010 response rate,” Hernandez said. “And while we celebrate the success throughout Idaho, and there are great successes in hard-to-count communities like Canyon County, Twin Falls County, and Bonneville County, we have counties that are still below the 2010 response rate like Jerome County, Clark County, Owyhee County and Blaine County.”

An extra month to count the communities in more rural parts of Idaho would make a huge difference, Toone said.

“Right now, it is begging people to please get out and get counted,” she said.

Written by the Idaho Press

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