Filling out census can pay dividends for Whitfield County for the next 10 years

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A leader with the 2020 Census is urging Whitfield County residents to be sure to fill out their Census forms, saying it could pay financial dividends for the next 10 years.

“Our most important mission is to count everyone where they are, to ensure that their jurisdiction receives all of the funding based on their population,” Tracey Monroe Sr., partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Field Division covering Whitfield, Pickens and Forsyth counties, said during Thursday’s “County Connect” program which aired live on Whitfield County’s website, www.whitfieldcountyga.com.

Also appearing on the program and serving as a translator into Spanish for members of the Latino community was Eva Rodriguez, program manager of the Latin American Association’s Dalton Outreach Center.

Both Monroe and Rodriguez emphasized the importance of making sure all members of the community are counted accurately, since many government programs are based on population.

Monroe said undocumented members of the community sometimes are afraid of what might happen if they put down their information on the Census, suspecting that the Census is somehow connected with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

These people may not be engaging with the Census “because they feel that we’re of the federal government, and that we may be part of ICE,” Monroe said, “which we are not. Their information is protected for 72 years, and we had a Supreme Court decision that actually solidified this.”

Undocumented residents may have children who are U.S. citizens, Monroe said, and being counted in the Census can help their future by leading to increased federal funding for improving local infrastructure, including schools, roads leading to schools, bridges that might need to be repaired or replaced, electric and sewage projects, and expansion of public safety such as police officers, EMTs and firefighters.

“We actually measure the number of housing starts and look at building permits to get a grasp on population and growth,” Monroe said. “We look at whether or not locations are losing population as well.”

Census numbers are also used for healthcare system funding “which is crucial as you can see with the current pandemic,” Monroe said. “We’re actually seen where places throughout the country may need to shore up their health care systems.”

Rodriguez said that tying the Census to the pandemic is “very important to the conversation because there are some communities struggling to provide services because they have a larger population than what they’re federally funded for. We don’t want to see that in our community for the next 10 years.”

A difficult age to count has been birth to 5 years, she said. “Maybe families think, why should I count this small child?” Rodriguez said. “But every child counts, everybody in your house counts because if we think about it long-term, that 5-year-old in 10 years is going to be in high school. There are resources available for your child to help them prepare for higher education or a career, not just for the Latino community but the community at large.”

Monroe said in the last Census, children under 5 years of age were undercounted by at least 1 million nationwide. He hopes a targeted campaign in partnership with schools will pay off by having them funnel the Census information down throughout the entire system.

To help make filling out the Census as easy as possible, officials offer pamphlets in 13 languages and also have information in 40 languages on the Census Bureau website at www.census.gov.

“This Census makes it very easy for citizens who might not want someone knocking on their door wearing a mask so they can simply preemptively go online and complete the Census,” Monroe said.

Whereas in the past Census workers often knocked on doors to ask residents to fill out the forms, “due to the pandemic, this crisis, the best that we’re going to do is hang a notification on their doorknob so that way a person won’t be afraid of contact,” he said.

A special number for Spanish-speaking community members to call for more information about the Census has been set up at (844) 468-2020.

The deadline to submit Census forms is Aug. 11, and Whitfield County has a long way to go toward meeting its final total from 2010, Monroe and Rodriguez said. As of Thursday morning, Whitfield County was at a 51.2% response rate, compared to a final rate of 78.5% in 2010.

“County residents, just remember we don’t want to give all that funding to other counties just because we haven’t filled out our Census forms,” said Lynn Laughter, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners.

Added Rodriguez: “We encourage the Latino community and will continue to encourage the Latino community of the high importance of the Census and how it literally affects so many aspects in our community.”

Earlier in the “County Connect” program, Whitfield County Emergency Management Director Claude Craig provided the latest statistics for both the state and Whitfield County, numbers that continue to trend in the right direction, he said.

In the county, for example, as of Thursday, there were no positive COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit at Hamilton Medical Center, no COVID-19 patients on ventilators and only three patients hospitalized with COVID-19. He said throughout the pandemic, a total of 218 positive tests have been recorded locally, with 21 hospitalizations and seven deaths resulting.

Statewide, Craig said Gov. Brian Kemp reported that since May 1, there has been a 38% reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations, and only 30% of the available ventilators are being used.

“That is remarkable that our hospital census is down that low,” Craig said. “It just seems to be that we’re trending toward what we wanted to see, the numbers going down.”

He warned residents to continue to be vigilant, especially with the Memorial Day holiday coming up, a time when traditionally large groups of people gather, possibly spreading the virus. He urged people to continue to practice social distancing and frequent hand washing “and do what we’re doing now and hopefully we’ll avoid what I call COVID-19 2.0 that might come back this fall. We don’t want to see that. Right now, we are gaining on our end goal.”

The next “County Connect” show is Thursday, May 28, at 5 p.m. You can watch all the shows online on the county’s website.

Questions for the county commissioners can be sent by email to Laughter at llaughter@whitfieldcountyga.com, Harold Brooker at hbrooker@whitfieldcountyga.com, Roger Crossen at rcrossen@whitfieldcountyga.com, Greg Jones at gjones@whitfieldcountyga.com or Barry Robbins at brobbins@whitfieldcountyga.com. You can also call the county offices at (706) 275-7500.

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