Our Opinion: A successful census is critical to Vermont

Houston Census Office. (Photo/Scott Dalton)

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The U.S. Census count is of critical importance, particularly for Vermont, given its heavily reliance upon federal funding and its declining population. The census process has become politicized, which makes it even more important that census officials and Green Mountain State residents work together to achieve the most accurate count possible.

April 1, 2020, has been designated by the federal government as the official census day. "Shape your future" is the official slogan for the 2020 census, and that is exactly what the census will do in Vermont over the next 10 years.

Federal funding matters a great deal in Vermont. According to the state Joint Fiscal Office, in the fiscal 2020 budget proposed by the state House of Representatives, federal funding accounts for $2.04 billion of the $6.08 billion the state expects to spend in the 12 months starting July 1. That's 33.5 percent — one out of every three dollars the state spends.

Part of that funding is federal Community Development Block Grants, which are linked to population. This money is used for programs like infrastructure planning and construction and medical assistance. And federal census figures are widely used to determine funding for schools, highway funding and other vital programs.

The census is supposed to be apolitical, but it has been corrupted by politics in the Trump era. The president, through his Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, has been trying to add a citizenship question to the census even though the historic goal of the census, as outlined in the Constitution, is "... to account for every man, woman and child regardless of their status as citizens." Two federal courts have thus far blocked this attempt to undermine the census. But the damage has already been done in the immigrant community. And Vermont dairy farms rely heavily upon immigrant labor.

The count in Vermont might also be affected by lack of people to do the counting. As the Bennington Banner's Tiffany Tan reported last month, the New York Region Census Center, which covers Vermont, needs 785 workers in Vermont in the first phase of field work, and at least 7,500 Vermont applicants in the second phase to hand-deliver census forms and interview residents who don't return their forms.

"We are struggling in the state of Vermont to recruit enough applicants," said said Ian Hull, deputy director of the New York Region Census Center. "Right now, we fall extremely low in that progress."

Hull said his office is also working with Vermont officials and nonprofit groups to establish a Complete Count Committee, a volunteer group that raises local awareness of the upcoming census and motivates community members to respond. We're hopeful that effort comes to fruition, so that every Vermonter is counted, and that the federal dollars that mean so much to this state are not put at risk.