The U.S. Census Bureau and local towns are reminding residents about the importance of filling out the census, the once per decade questionnaire from the federal government that counts the country’s citizens.
While the U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted operations and is carefully monitoring the COVID-19 situation, officials are also providing guidance about how University of Rhode Island students who have returned home while the school is closed should fill out the forms.
Census statistics help federal and local lawmakers allocate funding for the next 10 years for critical public services including how to prepare, respond and rebuild from disasters and crises, like COVID-19.
South County residents can respond online, by phone or by mail.
If URI college students have moved home due to COVID-19 campus closures, they should be counted where they usually live during the school year, according to the Census Bureau.
“We want to make sure you’re counted in the right place, no matter where you physically are, even if you’re temporarily living somewhere else,” Census Bureau spokesperson Virginia Hyer said. “Students that normally live at school should be counted as at school.”
Students who normally live in dormitories or in college-owned Greek housing – fraternities and sororities – are already being counted as living on campus, Hyer said.
“That means you don’t need to do anything, and you’re off the hook,” she said.
At URI, for example, a representative there will work with the Census Bureau to ensure students who normally live in campus housing are counted even though they’re home because of COVID-19.
“How students participate is largely dependent on the method chosen by the school’s contact person, which is the case for all group quarter facilities because of privacy and security concerns,” said Judy Belton, who is in charge of 2020 Census special enumerations at the Census Bureau.
Students that live off campus in a house or apartment, however, will need to fill out the form.
They’ll receive a letter by mail that will instruct them about the three ways they can respond: online, by phone or by mail.
“Whatever method you choose, make sure you use your normal address where you live while you’re in school,” Hyer said. “You should also include everyone else who normally lives there too.”
The Census Bureau also has methods of eliminating duplicate data if more than one person in a home fills out a form.
Students who usually live with their parents during the school year should be included in their parents’ census response.
“The reason we want to make sure you’re counted where you normally live is because those responses impact how billions of dollars in federal funding will be distributed to your school’s community for services that affect you, like school safety, mental health services and Pell Grants,” Hyer said.
Data from the census also informs how billions of dollars are spent annually on unemployment insurance, emergency food assistance, shelter grants and temporary assistance for needy families.
The total self-response rate for Narragansett as of April 27 was 40.6 percent, according to Census Bureau data.
For North Kingstown, the rate was 64.1 percent and for South Kingstown, 51.6 percent.
As the nation battles the spread of COVID-19, Census Bureau data are also being used to help in the fight.
For example, American Community Survey statistics are helping identify counties with large at-risk populations such as the elderly. The Census Bureau’s ongoing surveys of businesses will also assist in measuring the economic impact of COVID-19 and other emergencies and help in the country’s eventual recovery.