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Locals give strong initial response to census

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Lisa Dunlap Photo The Roswell Complete Count Committee is changing some plans to reach people given the current COVID-19 situation, says Marcos Nava, head of the local effort.

In the two weeks since Chaves County and Roswell residents began receiving their census surveys and notices, 24.7% of county residents and 26.8% of city residents have responded.

That ranks the area third in the state behind Bernalillo (25.6%) and Los Alamos (38.6%) counties, but well ahead of the state, which has an 18.9% response rate so far.

New Mexico as whole has one of the lowest rates in the nation at the current time. Nationally, 26.2% of households have completed a survey, and many states have rates in about that range.

The head of the local census count efforts said that his group is pleased with results so far, but added that more people should complete the survey, using the time they have as a result of the COVID-19 situation and state requirements to “stay at home” except for critical needs.

“We are happy, but we need to let people know to stay home, be safe, but use that time to do your census,” said Marcos Nava, head of the Roswell Complete Count Committee. “I did my census at home, and it took me not more than 12 minutes. I took my time and did it, and it was very, very easy.”

The U.S. Census Bureau is tracking and publishing response rates regularly, as the push is on to get all people living in the United States on April 1 counted for the biennial full population count.

While the ideal date for response is by April 1 — the official Census Day — people actually have quite a while to complete the survey.

In fact, the difficulties presented by the spread of the coronavirus and the state and national restrictions resulting have caused the U.S. Census Bureau to extend the self-response date by a couple of weeks until Aug. 14.

But Nava wants everyone to do their survey now and to tell or help others to complete theirs.

The count determines congressional and state legislative representation and billions in annual federal aid for a wide range of programs. According to a website run by the New Mexico Statewide Complete Count Commission, every 1% undercount in Chaves County means a loss of $19.28 million in federal funding over 10 years.

If the city of Roswell reaches at least 50,000 people — the local goal, which is only 1,634 more than the official city count in 2010 — it becomes eligible for additional federal grants. Businesses also use population counts as one factor in determining where to locate new sites. The 2010 Chaves County count was 65,645.

Nava said that some plans about how to encourage full participation in the area have been altered due to the COVID-19 situation.

A large event scheduled for late April at Roswell High School has been postponed, without a new date scheduled yet, he said.

But the Complete Count Committee, aided by two Rotary clubs in Roswell as well as other volunteers, has placed yard signs in English and Spanish across the city. Those join signs and billboards placed by the county subcommitee about two weeks ago. Nava’s group is also placing the census message on electronic billboards.

Nava added that the committee also plans to send out a robocall reminder using the Roswell Independent School District database.

The Complete Count Committee is relying on social media, traditional media and, when possible, word of mouth.

“We are taking the lead from the 2020 national Census Bureau,” said Nava.

The Census Bureau has announced several delays in its schedules, including postponing having in-person teams in communities contacting non-responders until early May. It still intends to meet its overall deadline of having final counts done by the end of the calendar year.

People who haven’t completed a survey can do so online at www.2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020. A paper mail-in form also can be requested.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.