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Willmar committee gets early start on census planning

WILLMAR -- The official kickoff for the 2020 United States census -- April 1, 2020 -- is still over 430 days away. However, the city of Willmar has already started planning for the once-a-decade population count, which impacts everything from the...

U.S. Census Bureau photoThe 2020 United States census will begin in spring 2020, but the Complete Count Committee in Willmar has already started working to make sure the community is ready.
U.S. Census Bureau photo The 2020 United States census will begin in spring 2020, but the Complete Count Committee in Willmar has already started working to make sure the community is ready.

WILLMAR - The official kickoff for the 2020 United States census - April 1, 2020 - is still over 430 days away. However, the city of Willmar has already started planning for the once-a-decade population count, which impacts everything from the state's congressional delegation to how much money Willmar could get in local government aid.

"The census is about three things. It is about power, money and data," said Andrew Virden, director of census operations and engagement with the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

Willmar's Complete Count Committee met for the first time last week, and as of the meeting on Jan. 9, was one of only five cities or counties in the state to convene their census committees.

"You beat Minneapolis," Virden said.

Willmar's committee has members from a wide range of communities including business, education and government, as well as from the Latino and Somali communities.

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"The census will work better with people from Willmar speaking to people from Willmar," Virden said.

The census has been taken every 10 years since 1790 and is written in the United States Constitution. It gathers information on all people living in the United States, including a person's age, sex and race. This includes citizens, non-citizens and immigrants.

"The questions are really simple, but the impact is really big," Virden said.

While traditionally conducted either by mail or in person by one of thousands of census workers hired to knock on doors, the 2020 census will also be available online and over the phone. Census forms will begin to show up in mailboxes in March 2020 for those still wanting to fill it out on paper. Paid census workers will begin going door to door at the end of April 2020, Virden said.

"There are a lot of challenges and there is a lot at stake," Virden said.

The challenges include privacy concerns, distrust in government, the high number of renters, changing technology and culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

Virden said privacy concerns and distrust of government cross all backgrounds and races. One of the jobs of the Complete Count Committee will be to assure people their data is safe and cannot and will not be used against them.

"Ultimately, this is a government form," Virden said. However, there are laws in place that protect an individual's information.

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"By law, any information you provide the census is confidential for 72 years," he said.

All census workers are sworn to secrecy for life, meaning they can never divulge or share any of the information they collect to anyone - data cannot be shared even with the IRS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FBI or CIA.

"It is even confidential from your landlord," Virden said.

One of the major controversies facing the 2020 census is the possible addition of a citizenship question. The Trump administration requested the question, saying it was needed to ensure voting rights. However, there are concerns such a question will reduce participation in the survey, especially in areas with high immigrant populations.

"That is a question that hasn't been asked since 1950," Virden said.

A federal judge from New York on Jan. 15 barred adding the question to the census. The United States Supreme Court will be addressing the issue, where it is already on the schedule for Feb. 19.

Virden said the decision on the citizenship question will need to be made by this summer, before the millions of forms need to be printed.

The Complete Count Committee in Willmar is planning on meeting quarterly through 2019 and will be very important in preparing the city's residents for the census and educating them about how important it is to participate. The plan is to make sure everyone in Willmar is counted, counted once and counted in the right place.

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"It is important everyone gets counted," Virden said.

U.S. Census Bureau photoThe 2020 United States census will begin in spring 2020, but the Complete Count Committee in Willmar has already started working to make sure the community is ready.
U.S. Census Bureau photo The 2020 United States census will begin in spring 2020, but the Complete Count Committee in Willmar has already started working to make sure the community is ready.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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