Conducting the U.S. census, which started in 1790, is important for many reasons, including its use in determining how many representatives each state gets in Congress. It’s also used to help determine grants and funding for communities.

Communities rely on U.S. census statistics to plan for things such as new roads, schools and emergency services. Businesses use census data to help provide local jobs and places to shop.

“From our perspective, the 2020 census is more important than ever,” said Executive Director of Richland Economic Development Leslie Messer in an email.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, each year the federal government distributes hundreds of billions of dollars to states and communities based on census data.

The goal is to count everyone once, only once and in the right place. While the census is taken every 10 years, this year it’s different than in the past.

“The census counts everyone is the U.S., and that ends up being the basis for more than $750 billion in various federal support programs nationally. Here in Montana, that could equate to roughly $2 billion in funding. Montana’s census could also increase a U.S. House of Representatives seat; which could give Montanans a louder voice,” Messer said.

For the first time, people will be able to respond online, by phone or by mail. The census bureau will use data the public has already provided to cut down on household visits. One thing they stress is all information gathered during the census taking is kept completely confidential. Census takers swear a lifetime oath to protect respondent information.

“In having discussions with the Montana census complete count committee members, the repercussions of undercounting and under participation are very significant. Each uncounted resident could result in an estimated $20,000 per person over a decade when the next census happens. That’a tremendous amount of money that could be used locally for healthcare, housing, education, transportation, employment and public policy,” Messer said.

There are more ways the census data is used other than just determining the number of seats in Congress. It’s used for planning for hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, the location of other health services, drawing school district boundaries, creating maps to speed up emergency services to households in need of assistance and much more.

After each census, state officials will use the results to redraw the boundaries of their congressional and state legislative districts, changing according to population shifts.

Colleen McCarthy, a partnership specialist with the U.S. census said some people don’t want to answer the questions asked by census takers because they may have more people living in low income housing than they are allowed.

Federal law protects census responses. They aren’t allowed to share information with immigration enforcement agencies, law enforcement agencies or allow it to be used to determine eligibility for government benefits.

By law, information is kept confidential and cannot be used for anything other than statistics. Also, individuals cannot be identified in the data.

“Sidney and Richland County have taken the first integral step in ensuring a complete and accurate 2020 census by taking this first key step. By bringing together trusted voices in government and across the business and local community, the area has shown it is serious about the census. This is good news for a region stretched thin by the oil boom and in need of an updated count of people living there,” said media rep for the U.S. census bureau Josh Manning.

U.S. Census Bureau is currently looking for people to help collect data this year. To find out how to participate in the census taking, visit census.gov.

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