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Local response to census strong so far

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The head of the Roswell 2020 Complete Count Committee thinks the group is well positioned to reach its goals even after the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it will end data collection Sept. 30, a month earlier than previously announced.

“My reaction to that is, thank God we are prepared,” said Marcos Nava, head of the volunteer committee that works to raise awareness about the decennial population count and to increase participation. Nava is also the executive director of the Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

“We had been working on our deadline to end our campaign on Oct. 15,” he said. “The new change means that it only cuts 15 days from what we wanted to do.”

The Census Bureau released a statement Monday to explain that the self-response and door-to-door data collection will end Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31, as had been the deadline given earlier by the bureau.

That October deadline was itself an extension of the original July 31 data collection end-date, an extension given in response to the pandemic and the need to comply with stay-at-home orders, limits on gatherings and social distancing requirements.

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Some federal legislators have expressed concern that the September deadline will mean that the homeless, immigrants or other populations who often are overlooked will be undercounted, and they have suggested legislation to extend deadlines.

But the Census Bureau released a statement saying, “Under this plan, the Census Bureau intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to harder-to-count communities.”

The statement explained that the Census Bureau intends to “improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness” by hiring additional workers and by providing awards to enumerators that “maximize” their hours. Census Bureau public information officers declined to give additional information. Enumerators are the people who visit households that have not already filled out surveys via the phone, internet or by mail.

The additional labor-hours will ensure that the Census Bureau is completed with its work and able to turn its information over to the U.S. secretary of commerce by Dec. 31, as required by law, the news release stated.

Nava said that Roswell’s self-response is strong so far and should be nearing the 50,000 city population count that the committee has set as a goal. In 2010, the city fell just short of that goal, with a 48,366 population count.

“I want to make sure that we thank the 61.3% of the households that have responded,” he said. “I projected just by my math and conversations with other people we need to be at about 72% of the Roswell households to reach the 50,000. That’s why we are saying we are very close.”

He said the local Complete Count Committee includes several subcommittees that target specific groups, including residents living in the county outside of the city limits, college populations, the religious community, the homeless and veterans. The committee is preparing to roll out its last advertising campaign, Nava said.

That will include radio public service announcements, billboard ads and a sign in front of the Roswell Visitors’ Center on North Main Street that will have a barometer showing participation rates as well as information about the benefits of the census to the area.

“We feel we have a great marketing campaign, with a call to action embedded,” he said.

He added that he will continue to have a booth at the Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Market until the end of September so that people can complete the survey on the spot. The market occurs every Saturday morning, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the downtown Chaves County Courthouse. Other events are planned in the coming weeks at the courthouse and at the Roswell Air Center.

He said that census worker are being trained now and he is urging people to cooperate with them, saying they can call the Census Bureau if there are any questions about the people at doors. He reminds area residents that completing the survey only takes a few minutes and that federal law requires that information is kept confidential for 72 years.

“For every resident that doesn’t get counted on the census, we lose money,” he said. “… We want to be at least at 72% of households, but, in reality, everybody should be responding and counted because we get more federal funding to come to our city, our county.”

Federal funds go to a large variety of programs including early childhood education, transportation systems, highway improvements, public safety and health care. Census counts also determine the number of state and federal legislative seats for areas and are used by researchers in a variety of ways, including to formulate public policy and guide business decisions.

“We just need the money,” he said. “Why throw the money away when all it takes is 10 minutes of your time to fill out the census?”

He said while Roswell’s self-response rates show that some areas of the city have 75% of households that have completed the surveys, he wants to see 100% rates.

He said the central and south areas of Roswell especially need to complete their surveys, and he asks that people who have responded continue to remind others to complete theirs.

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