After nine years of American Community Survey estimates, the U.S. Census Bureau is getting ready for its decennial complete count of the United States. 

The Census will increase the pay starting Dec. 1 for temporary field workers it plans to hire in Montana, paying $17-$19.50 an hour for the people that will go door to door getting people to respond to the once-every-decade survey.

The higher hourly wage is for workers in Cascade, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula and Yellowstone counties, while the lower range is for workers in the rest of the state. The previous pay was about $13.50.

At the start of this month, Vicki McIntire, the Census deputy regional director based in Denver, said that Montana had recruited about 4,700 people, which is about 33% of the Census' recruiting goal. McIntire was presenting information about the Census to the Districting and Apportionment Commission, which is tasked with redrawing Montana's legislative district boundaries every decade based on population counts.

"That's a problem," McIntire said. "We've got to step up our pool in the next couple of months." People can apply at https://2020census.gov/en/jobs.html.

Mary Craigle, the bureau chief of research and information services at state Department of Commerce, told the commission that Montana needs to recruit almost three times the number of people it hopes to hire.

"We actually need to recruit over 14,000 people for 4,000 to 5,000 jobs because ... those enumerators are also folks that we need to have go out to these areas and drop off packets at these doors, not just do the followups, so we have a lot of tasks that we're going to need in this state."

Craigle said there's also a waiver in process that would address concerns raised by some Montanans who were considering applying for Census jobs but were worried that the short-term increase in their income would cause them to no longer qualify for food aid benefits or other temporary assistance.

"That was another big deal that was sort of a problem," Craigle said. "Folks that were receiving TANF and SNAP benefits were concerned they would lose those benefits. Those folks will not be losing their SNAP and TANF benefits."

Craigle said the number of people the Census aims to recruit in Montana will change as the process goes on, based on how successful efforts are. She and McIntire noted more are being recruited weekly, so numbers had increased from what was presented to the commission.

McIntire said the Census goes live for people to respond via phone and the website March 12. Enumerators will start knocking on doors after that.

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A change this year in the Census will let people who live on reservations in the state respond by phone or online. Last time, in 2010, the only way those residents could respond was with an enumerator at their door.

“We got a lot of push back on that because our campaign everywhere and on TV was to ‘fill it out and mail it back,'” McIntire said. “This Census virtually everybody has the option to self-respond. All of the tribal nations in the state, all of them will have a chance to self-respond.”

Self-responses, McIntire said, could help produce a more accurate count, as some people are fearful of sharing the full information about who lives in a housing structure because it may be more than what's allowed by a landlord.

“It’s harder to say that to another person,” McIntire said of reporting over-populated households. “Being a statistical person, data quality is much greater if people self-respond.”

The commission will get redistricting data from the Census by March 31, 2021. The information will be used to adjust the boundaries of Montana’s 100 House and 50 Senate districts based on current populations, and, if the numbers fall right for the state, draw a new U.S. House district. Montana lost its second congressional district in 1993.

Montana gets about $2 billion in federal funds each year based on Census counts, so the state is pushing for as accurate of a count as possible. More than 100 programs under state government's umbrella receive federal money based on Census data.