Exactly how many people live in Montana?
That question must be answered next year. It's important that all of us be counted in the constitutionally mandated decennial census of the United States. In past censuses, some folks have been hard to count nationwide — people living in rural areas, minorities and people who have post office boxes, but not street addresses. In the 2020 Census, having dependable internet and phone access will be more important than ever.
Census Day is April 1, 2020. In March, the U.S. Census Bureau will mail information to every household with a street address, instructing them how to participate in the census by answering a few questions online or by telephone. People who don't have a physical address or whose address is a post office box won't get that mailing.
Households that don't respond by completing the census survey online or by phone are supposed to get a home visit from a Census Bureau worker. Those personal visits are more expensive for taxpayers, so the tightly budgeted 2020 Census aims to have as many people as possible use the online survey.
The personal visits don't always succeed. For one thing, if rural residents don't have a street address, the census taker may not be able to find them. If a stranger from the U.S. government knocks, not everyone will open the door.
Many Montana residents are hard to count. Native Americans living in rural reservation communities without internet access or street addresses are especially at risk of being missed. Western Native Voice has taken on the challenge of helping Native Americans statewide overcome obstacles to census participation.
Lauri Kindness' job is talking to her Crow Reservation neighbors about the 2020 Census. A community organizer for Western Native Voice, Kindness attends town meetings, visits farmers markets, does media interviews and has recorded radio public service announcements. She also offers information on voter registration.
"I think it's my civic duty," she said in an interview at the Western Native Voice office at First Congregational Church in downtown Billings. "People respond better to a community member," said Kindness, who lives in Lodge Grass.
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Western Native Voice has hired Community Organizers across Montana to work in their own communities and be a trusted resource for census information.
“Our organizers inspire countless people to vote and become engaged beyond the ballot box,” said Leah Berry, development manager of Western Native Voice. “Their boots on the ground efforts created record breaking turnout in the 2018 election and their Census work we will shape a positive future for the next 10 years and build long lasting power in Indian Country.”
State's $2B stake
Undercounting causes long term consequences, said Ta'jin Perez, communications coordinator for Western Native Voice. Federal grant allocations are determined by the census, including Indian Health Service and Housing and Urban Development, he said.
An accurate census matters because:
- The state will receive $20,000 back in federal funds over the next decade for every person counted, accord to the Montana Complete County Committee.
- More than $675 billion in federal funds are awarded annually to states and localities based on census data. Montana currently receives more than $2 billion a year based on census data.
- Montana has a reasonable chance of gaining a second U.S. House seat if all Montanans are counted.
- Census data helps communities on and off reservations plan community services and infrastructure by providing demographic information about their population.
- Census data will be used to redraw boundaries for 150 state legislative districts to maintain equal representation.
- Cities, counties and school districts revise their representative district boundaries to reflect changes according to the decennial census.
"We're trying to make this very locally driven," said Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who chairs the Montana Complete County Committee. "We think people will respond if they know the people. People feel much more comfortable talking to people they know or they know are from their area."
More than a dozen local Complete Count Committees have already formed across Montana. Cooney hopes that number will increase. Because the biggest challenges are tribal nations and rural Montana, Cooney appointed Leonard Smith, executive director of Native American Development Corp., and Kathie Bailey, executive director of Snow Mountain Development Corp. in Lewistown as co-chairs.
The local connection is vital. Cooney and Kindness encourage Montanans to apply for Census Bureau jobs. Being a census worker in your community will help ensure that everyone gets counted — and you'll get paid. Check the box above for application information.