A single Grand Forks resident's response to the 2020 U.S. Census would generate about $1,900 in federal funding for the community -- that's the cost of school lunch for about one-quarter of the student population at Grand Forks Elementary School. It's also the cost of fixing hundreds of potholes.
That money will come out of a $675 billion pool that will be distributed based on population throughout the United States, said Brad Gangler, the city's planning and community development director.
"If there's one thing you take away from this whole census thing, it's that this is actually a competition," Grand Forks Community/Government Relations Officer Pete Haga said Thursday, Nov. 14, before the Complete Count Committee.
The committee met Thursday afternoon for its second time to brainstorm ways to reach traditionally undercounted populations, such as college students, new Americans and immigrants, retirees, renters, Native Americans and residents of the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
In preparation for the 2020 census, local government officials and U.S. Census workers are hitting the ground hard and early. One local census worker said that, if the North Dakota count is off by 0.01%, the state stands to lose $15 million before the 2030 census. In Minnesota, the stakes are higher: More people means more money at stake, as well as one congressional seat.
That funding goes toward programs, such as Medicaid, Head Start, housing and energy assistance, and family and child assistance used by residents throughout the Grand Forks area, Gengler said.
That's where the Complete Count Committee gets active. The group is formed from representatives of local government, social services, religious institutions and traditionally undercounted populations. It will spend the next several months finding ways to encourage hard-to-reach residents to respond to the U.S. Census when self-reporting opens on March 12.
Gengler said he's optimistic about the upcoming census, especially since this is the first year residents can respond online.
"It's brought up more fears and questions," said Peggy Jo Archer of the U.S. Census Bureau. "But there are more people who are willing to do it, too."
Security concerns are often cited by residents who are hesitant to respond to the census, but Archer told the Complete Count Committee that the U.S. Census Bureau never shares information with outside agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Another census worker added that, while a typical U.S. bank guards data with six layers of encryption, U.S. Census servers are protected by 16 layers of encryption.
In addition to responding to the census online, residents will still have the option to respond by mail or over the phone. Gengler said the Grand Forks Public Library also intends to have computers and staff on-hand to help residents respond whichever way they prefer.
Early area census offices will open starting in January, and Group Quarters Operations will run February to June, when specialized census workers will canvas areas where many people live, such as dorms, prisons, military bases and shelters.
After Census Day on April 1, early non-response follow-up will run through mid-April. The results will be delivered to the president on Dec. 31, 2020.
Gengler said that, beyond determining how much federal funding Grand Forks will receive, census data also will shape the way the city understands itself for the next decade. He said his department frequently references census data when thinking about city planning.
Grand Forks senior planner Stephanie Halford said that, by starting early and educating residents about the importance of the census, she hopes the next six months will run smoothly.
"We're excited for the future," Halford said. "We want to make it into a positive thing."