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Efforts begin to form local census count committee

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“it is going to impact all of us at so many different levels,” says Veronica Arzate de Reyes, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Groups will urge participation in 2020 surveys

Local government and business leaders are discussing lining up the people who will ensure that as many Chaves County residents as possible get counted for the 2020 U.S. Census, key to federal funding and legislative representation for the area.

Bill Morris, planning and community development manager with the city of Roswell, met this week with U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Veronica Arzate de Reyes of Albuquerque to have some initial discussions about forming a Complete Count Committee and providing training once the committee is established.

“Based on conversations with the state’s census coordinator and internal staff, we will bring this group together around January 2019,” Morris said in an email.

The exact composition of the group has not yet been determined, according to Morris, and no decision has been made about whether the county and city will have a combined committee or separate ones.

The Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., which works on behalf of both the city and the county, has named oilman and rancher Phelps Anderson as head of its census group.

Anderson, also expected to join the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2019, given that he is the only candidate for the District 66 seat, said, “The EDC will simply complement the other efforts of the city and the county to achieve the full count.”

The Complete Count Committees will bring together representatives from a broad spectrum of the community, most likely to include government, business, education, media, social and nonprofit organizations, and religious groups.

Committee members and their employees or volunteers then will work to educate people about the importance of the census and will help locate and reach as many residents as possible.

At stake in the 2020 count are several things for the local area, including millions of dollars in federal funding and future state and federal legislative representation and district lines.

Morris said that the estimate of federal funding for the region that depends on census data will be provided as part of a “census packet” to be distributed in 2019.

Nationwide, census data was used to determined 2015 allocations of $689 billion in federal funding for 132 programs involving education, college financial aid, health services, housing, wildlife management, water systems, food and nutrition, and many other initiatives. New Mexico typically receives $6 billion a year in funding related to census data.

The data collected is also used by many different federal entities and agencies for research or to plan programming and services.

Chaves County had one of the highest response rates in the state in 2010, when 76.6 percent of mailed surveys were returned and a total population count of 65,610 was recorded.

But, according to Morris, the city of Roswell protested the results without a significant change in the data, which officially showed 48,366 residents.

To many business and government leaders, reaching 50,000 within the city is an important milestone, the point at which Roswell becomes the anchor for a metropolitan statistical area, as defined by the federal Office of Management and the Budget, and when it becomes eligible for certain federal transportation and infrastructure grant programs.

“I believe Roswell is over 50,000,” said Anderson. “Now the challenge is to count everyone.”

Part of the effort is not only to have people who know about the surveys respond but to ensure that all residents are reached, a task made more difficult, according to U.S. Census publications, by an increasingly mobile society, where more people live in recreational vehicles or other types of nontraditional housing, and a culture less defined by the nuclear family, one in which several families or individuals can share one dwelling.

This year, as Arzate de Reyes noted, people can fill out questionnaires by internet, which is intended increase responses. And, she said, the federal government has increased its marketing and communications budget from $376 million in 2010 to $480 million in 2020.

The Complete Count Committees exist in recognition that local people know where pockets of people reside, including the homeless, that otherwise might not be considered or who might need to be informed about the importance of what could appear to them to be just another routine request for information.

“There are certain parts of the population that we call ‘hard to count,’” said Arzate de Reyes. “There could be different reasons. It could be language. It could be lack of preparation.”

Morris said that Roswell will develop materials in both English and Spanish and also plans to meet directly with residents. Arzate de Reyes added that an effort will be made to educate school-age children about the census so that they will urge their parents or guardians to complete the surveys.

She acknowledged that questions about how the federal government uses the information it gathers is a significant issue to some. This year, some immigrant right groups nationwide have expressed concern with responding to the 2020 census, given that that it is expected to ask whether people are U.S. citizens. A lawsuit by 18 states, including New Mexico, and six cities has been filed filed to prohibit the question from being included.

“It is not going to be asking whether you have proper documentation or not,” she said. “It is just like, are you a citizen, yes or no? And again that is just going to be used for statistical purposes and not identifying people at the individual level.”

She said the confidentiality of individual information collected is protected by Title 13 of the U.S. Code and that only unidentifiable data can be published, released or shared.

“It is going to impact all of us on so many different levels. It can be a very positive and a very good thing for our communities if everyone participates,” said Arzate de Reyes. “On the other hand, when you think about the losses your communities have if you miss one person or one household and you multiply that by 10 years, that can have a big, big impact.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.