Paheadra Robinson, Mississippi Partnership Specialist to the U.S. Census Bureau, spoke to the Bolivar County Board of Supervisor Monday about getting Bolivar County prepared for the 2020 Census.
"We want to start early making sure we are educating people and getting the word out as soon as we can."
Robinson said the upcoming census will be different from previous ones because it will be primarily internet based, which she said may present a challenge for many residents.
She said postcards would be mailed to every residential address with a residential identifier code, which could be used to fill out the census.
"If (residents) feel that is not the best way to get that information out to us, then a call center will be available where they can share that information."
Robinson added that residents can also request paper ballots but they will be in limited supply.
"If that doesn't work we will knock on doors. What we don't want to do is to have a lot of that going on in Bolivar County because we've found that we don't get the most accurate information when we knock on doors," said Robinson.
"When (people) take time to fill out the census on their own, we get the most accurate information about their household because we are not disrupting their normal routines.
"They don't have all the information before them and they will give you what they think is correct, which is not always the correct information."
Robinson said in 2000, Bolivar County had roughly 65 percent of residents participate and only a 56 percent rate in 2010.
"For (Bolivar County) that means that we did not get the best information that we could. So we want to make sure that we have a large number of households (this time around).”
Robinson said low participation in the census impacts state funding and according to a study by George Washington University for every household in the state that does not participate in the census, their community loses $2,503 person.
"The other things people need to understand is not only are we losing dollars but losing resources. We could have more children in Head Start programs and more funds trickling down into our education system if we do participate."
Supervisor Donny Whitten said, "We cheat our state, county and families out of several millions of dollars by not filling out the census."
Robinson suggested the board participate in the 2020 Census Local Update of Census Address Operation, which she said gives the board the opportunity to view all the residential addresses the U.S Census Bureau has on file for the county.
"The census starts with where people live to determine where we need to (focus our attentions). If we don't have an address on file, we cannot send a postcard or count the people in that house," she said.
She added that the bureau looked at other states that were more successful in terms of participation rates, and recommended that the board form a complete count committee, consisting of residents from across the district elected by the board to serve the committee.
"That committee would come up with activities and events to educate the community about how the census will work, address any questions or concern that people have about participating, generates interest and get people comfortable enough to participate in the census," said Robinson.
The last thing she asked for was a liaison that she could connect with to provide information to prepare the county for the upcoming census.
Robinson said a lot of people fear participating in the census because they believe it would enable other government agencies to have their personal information, thus impacting their benefits, such as social security, Section 8, or social service programs.
"We cannot share census information with government agencies. They can make a request, but the answer is always no," said Robinson.
County Administrator Will Hooker said the board is already partnering with South Delta Planning and Development.
"What we are trying to do is make sure that the residential address information that the U.S. Census Bureau has on residents is accurate and if any discrepancies are corrected," said Hooker.