The United States Census Bureau resumed some of its in-field operations this week, which were temporarily suspended following COVID-19 health restrictions in March and April. Meanwhile, local community leaders continue to brainstorm ways to get participation rates up for Lawrence County residents.

The Census Bureau began distributing 2020 Census questionnaires to Alabama households this week, dropping them at doorsteps for contactless delivery according to COVID-19 health guidelines.

The bureau said questionnaires are being delivered to households who did not receive mail promotions to their physical address, and plan to distribute 82,100 paper questionnaires or invitations in Alabama alone.

The hope is to get as many responses as quickly as possible, though the survey deadline has been extended from August to October this census year.

“Lawrence County is ranked at number 12 (for its response) in the state, which is really good. Initially, we started out at number four or number six,” Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Craig Johnston said in a community leaders’ teleconference last week.

In 2010, Lawrence County had a 64 percent response rate by the end of the survey period. As of last week, the county was just trailing that percentage at 60.5 percent, Johnston said.

According to data from the Census Bureau, Town Creek and Moulton led the county in response, reporting rates at 64.2 percent each. Hillsboro was not far behind, reporting a 55.7 percent self-response rate by May 13.

On Monday, updated data showed Lawrence County had a response rate of 61.2 percent.

Though the bureau halted many in-field operations due to the coronavirus outbreak, state and local leaders have heavily promoted the census online via social media. Some counties and municipalities have passed along census information via school systems and utility departments, and a few counties have even held contests for its communities and awarded those who saw significant increases in response rates.

Johnston said he hopes many of Lawrence County’s mayors, commissioners, and other leaders will push census promotions again within the next few weeks to help raise rates locally even further.

Johnston suggested continuing plans for mobile census stations county leaders had discussed earlier in the year, which would bring internet access and census assistance to neighborhoods countywide.

“Before COVID-19 hit, the County’s ‘Complete Count Committee’ had discussed offering mobile hot spots with laptop or iPad access to reach our low response areas,” County Administrator Heather Dyar said.

She said the commission had also coordinated plans with the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Education, Lawrence municipalities, public libraries in the county, and the Jesse Owens Museum to set up internet access points at each facility during the census survey period.

“Of course, we had to cancel all of that once the pandemic hit,” she said in March following statewide closures that saw county offices close its doors to the public for several weeks.

No dates for the mobile stations can be announced until COVID-19 health restrictions continue to be lifted, or until plans to go mobile can be perfected to comply with social distancing guidelines, but Johnston and Dyar hope the project will eventually reach communities in the county that are reporting lower response rates.

NARCOG Outreach Coordinator Cissy Pearson said the organization is also working to promote the census with some of its outreach programs like its meal delivery service to homebound residents and seniors in Lawrence and Morgan counties.

“With our hot meal delivery (program), we deliver 70 meals in the valley alone,” Pearson said of Lawrence County’s lowest census tract. She said NARCOG may develop a plan to provide outreach and census assistance to low-income housing in Hillsboro, Courtland, and North Courtland.

The United States Census is conducted every 10 years nationwide, and residents are required by law to participate.

According to the Census Bureau, the distribution of $13 billion in federal funds, grants, and support to the state’s counties and communities are based on the census data, and these funds are spent on schools, healthcare, hospitals, roads and other vital programs across Alabama.

Individual responses collected in the census are compiled with information from other homes to produce statistics, which never identifies a census participant or any person listed in their home.

It typically takes less than 10 minutes to complete the census form online, according to the census website. Census takers may preview the questions online at 2020census.gov, and participants may fill the survey out online using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Census takers may also choose to respond by calling 844-330-2020. Phone lines are open every day from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central Time.

Residents may also respond to the census by returning a mail-in form that was issued to them last month or by the first of April. Participants who choose to mail in their responses are asked to use blue or black ink when filling out the questionnaire.

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