In the first few months of 2020, an important invitation will arrive in your mailbox. It is from the U.S. Census Bureau, imploring you to take the 2020 census. The census is decennial, meaning it occurs every ten years. This year, completion of the census is required by Wednesday, April 1, 2020.
Did you know? The census began in 1790 as a way to count the number of people living in the U.S. In 1902, the U.S. Census Bureau opened its doors to collect demographic, agricultural and economic data. To learn more, visit 2020census.gov.
Census data determines how many representatives each state has. Here are answers to commonly asked questions about the census, as well as other ways census data may impact you.
Q: Why does filling out the census matter for people who are blind or visually impaired?
A: People with disabilities are a minority population, and many rely on public programs, such as Medicaid and public transportation. Funding for and availability of these programs is determined by how many people live in a given area. As a person who is blind or visually impaired taking the census, you are notifying officials that you are in your community. Though the census does not ask about disability on the form, it does ask questions about age and relationship, which determines funding levels of programs for older adults and single parent households. Here are the questions you will be expected to answer as you take the census:
- How many people are living or staying at your home on April 1, 2020. This helps count the entire U.S. population and ensure that people are counted according to where they live on Census Day.
- Whether the home is owned or rented. The rates of homeownership serve as one indicator of the nation’s economy. They also help in administering housing programs and informing planning decisions.
- The gender of each person in your home. This data can be used to enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination.
- The age of each person in your home. The U.S. Census Bureau creates statistics to better understand the size and characteristics of different age groups. Agencies use this data to plan and fund government programs that support specific age groups, including children and older adults.
- The race of each person in your home, and whether a person in your home is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. This data helps federal agencies monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as those in the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
- The relationship of each person in your home. This allows the Census Bureau to create estimates about families, households, and other groups. Relationship data is used in planning and funding government programs that support families, including people raising children alone.
Fact: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than $8 billion of federal money is allocated based on the census population count.
Q: How will taking the census impact issues important to me?
A: Funding and needs assessment of important programs are both determined by the census count. The Council has highlighted five legislative priorities pertaining to the most important programs and services people who are blind or visually impaired rely on. Learn how census data is used in each of the priorities:
- Transportation: Billions of dollars in federal transportation funding is distributed using census data, including capital investment grants for public transit. State and community leaders use census data to help determine when bus routes need to be changed or added to match up with where people live and work.
- Employment: Many businesses use data from the census to help guide decisions, such as whether to open a new location, or make plans to hire more employees. This could result in more jobs in your community.
- Education: The Census count impacts the federal funds communities receive each year for programs and services critical for schools, students, and younger children, such as: special education, Head Start, after-school programs, and classroom technology; food assistance, including free and reduced-price school lunches; and maternal and child health programs.
- Healthcare and Long-Term Care: Census data is used to make many decisions about healthcare and long-term care. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project uses data from the census and American Community Survey (ACS) to assess patient well-being at the national, state and local levels. The formula that calculates Medicaid reimbursement levels includes the census-derived average income per person in each state from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
- ADA/Civil Liberties: Data about people with disabilities is gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau through the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is conducted in years when the census is not occurring, and filling out the survey is mandatory if you are selected to do so.
When it comes to voting and your representation in Congress, the census count plays a role. This is because the number of congressional districts in a state may shift based on increases or decreases in population over the previous decade, which affects congressional representation and state electoral votes. Census results also determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, and they are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.
Q: How can I take the census?
A: The census can be completed by mail, over the phone or online. See your invitation for specific details. The Census Bureau has stated that the 2020 Census will be accessible, and states the online questionnaire follows the latest web accessibility guidelines. An American Sign Language video guide will be available to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing who choose to respond online. Additionally, Braille and large-print guides will be available to assist people who are blind or visually impaired with self-response by mail.
Q: What are the important dates and other logistics to know about?
A: Once you get your invitation in the mail, be sure and complete the census in mid-March so there is time to resolve any issues by the final date of Wednesday, April 1, 2020.
Issues people who are blind or visually impaired care about are directly impacted by the census. It is the law to complete the census (see Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution), so be sure that you do so when the time comes.