Communities across Georgia are running out of time to make sure they get a complete count in the 2020 Census.
Monday, Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis joined the mayors of East Point, Savannah and Moultrie on a statewide webinar to stress the importance of a full count.
“Folks need to understand that there’s money that all of our taxpayers have sent up to Washington,” Davis said. “We want to get our fair share back.”
Georgia ranks near the bottom of states in its progress on the decennial count, which influences federal money allocations and political representation for the next ten years. The deadline is Sept. 30.
As of Monday, nearly 91% of households in Georgia had completed the census either on their own initiative or after census takers tracked them down via door-to-door visits or phone calls.
That’s an increase from the 81% completion rate seen earlier this month but still lags behind every other state in the country except Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Montana.
Without a serious push to count more people, many cities and counties in Georgia could find themselves left with fewer dollars to provide services for more people – and will be stuck with that problem for another decade.
“As of today Georgians have 10 days left to take 10 minutes and answer 10 questions to help their communities for the next 10 years,” Georgia Municipal Association Executive Director Larry Hanson.
“We can and must do better,” Hanson said. He explained that for every person who is not counted, the state would lose approximately $3,850 per year over the next decade.
Consequences of an undercount are serious, Davis said. She told the audience the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission lost two staff slots related to federal job training programs.
“It’s not theoretical,” Davis said. “It has real, very dramatic consequences.”
She also explained the significance of an undercount on economic development.
“Companies who are looking at our communities, the first place they look is they start looking at those census numbers and the demographics and whether your community is growing,” Davis said. “They see growing as thriving and many people don’t want to bring their business to a community that is not thriving.”
The census count affects the state’s share of a huge pot of federal dollars provided annually for a wide range of programs like Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps, housing vouchers, highway construction, child-care services, special education and more.
Roughly $1.5 trillion will be available for states to tap into, depending on the size of their census-determined populations, according to research from Georgia Washington University. The larger the population, the larger the share.
The census also plays a major political role in influencing how state lawmakers may redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries during negotiations next summer.
The high-stakes logistics of counting hundreds of millions of people across vastly different communities was daunting from the start. But the COVID-19 pandemic threw a major wrench into the equation, causing on-the-ground census takers to delay operations into summer and face reluctance from uncounted people to open their doors during follow-up visits.
Davis and Moultrie Mayor William McIntosh said that COVID-19 had certainly complicated the count over the last six months and communities have to work hard during the last week and a half of the official count.
Mayor Bill McIntosh, from the South Georgia city of Moultrie, noted smaller and more rural communities like his could suffer worse from an undercount than urban areas — by losing critical federal dollars and by having less representation in the Georgia General Assembly through redistricting.
McIntosh said he’s seen some resistance to completing the census from people who fear the federal government may use their personal information for negative purposes. That will not happen, McIntosh and others stressed.
“The census matters and it matters in very significant ways in our lives,” McIntosh said.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and East Point Mayor Deana Ingraham also participated on the webinar.