Field operations for the U.S. Census resumed on May 11 in Whatcom County and the rest of Washington state after being put on hold in March due to Covid-19. The operation, named “Update Leave,” has census workers verify residents’ addresses and then, in a contactless delivery, leave the census questionnaire at the homes, according to a press release.
The current field operations only affect rural households with P.O. boxes that don’t receive mail at their homes – about five percent of state households – according to the release.
Census workers will come to residences dressed in appropriate protective gear and leave a packet with the census questionnaire and information on how to respond, all without ringing the doorbell. Census workers can be identified by an ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date, according to the census website.
The U.S. Constitution requires the census to conduct a population count once per decade. The 10 question non-partisan survey collects information on people living in one household, including name, sex and date of birth. Information from the 10-minute survey is then used to allocate seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and directs spending on federal funds spent locally on services like transportation and health care programs.
As of Tuesday, May 25, Blaine’s 64.4 percent self-response rate closely tracked Washington state’s rate of 65.4 percent. Both Blaine and Washington are ahead of the national 60.1 percent response rate. Whatcom County, with a current response rate of 67.4 percent, has nearly surpassed its 2010 self-response rate of 67.7 percent.
People who own second homes in areas like Blaine, Birch Bay and Point Roberts should only respond to the census if they live at those residences for the majority of the year, said Sara Bernardy, census coordinator for Whatcom Council of Governments.
“If you do live in the U.S. for the majority of the year and on April 1, which is the benchmark, then you’re going to want to respond that you live in the U.S.,” Bernardy said.
Summer Starr, volunteer and event coordinator with the Opportunity Council, said areas with a high number of second homes can have lower response rates because the homes are listed for the census to count, even if they are not occupied for the majority of the year.
To combat this, Starr said second-home owners can call the census at 844/330-2020 and ask to have their home removed from the census count, which will also save tax dollars spent on census takers going door-to-door.
Point Roberts has one of the lowest census response rates in the county at 20.8 percent and the two census tracts that make up much of Birch Bay have response rates of 45.7 and 49.3 percent. Second homes have also impacted census response rates in San Juan County, Starr said.
People who receive mail at P.O. boxes and might not have received a request to respond to the census can fill out the census online or over the phone, instead of by mail. Census mail invitations include a 12-digit ID number that serves as address verification, but this is not needed to respond to the census.
Bernardy said she has been impressed by the internet response rate in Whatcom County this year, which is the first time the census has been offered online. Of the 67.4 percent response rate for Whatcom County, 59.7 percent of the responses have been online, according to May 25 data.
In late April, the census also began conducting “The House Pulse Survey,” a 20-minute survey on Covid-19’s affect on households across the U.S. People selected to participate in the survey, contacted through COVID.firstname.lastname@example.org or a text from 39242, are still required to respond to the 2020 census.
The timeline for the 2020 census was delayed due to Covid-19, pushing back the original August 14 end date of the self-response period to October 31.
“We have more time to mobilize ourselves to get counted,” Starr said.
People can call 844/330-2020 to inform the census about second homes that shouldn’t be counted. The census can be filled out online at 2020census.gov.