April 5, 2010 | The Times-Picayune | Original Article

2010 Census: It's not too late to stand up and be counted

Though Thursday marked the official Census Day when residents across the country were supposed to report the number of people in their household, it's not too late to mail back questionnaires, or to pick up a blank form and fill it out.

census_forms.JPGThe final 2010 census numbers will determine congressional representation for the next decade, as well as the distribution of about $400 billion annually in federal money.

Residents who have received a form by mail or through the hand-delivery process that covered most of the New Orleans region should fill it out, seal the accompanying postage-paid envelope and drop it in the mail as soon as possible, local census spokeswoman Andrea Loyola said.

Those who didn't receive a questionnaire at home should pick up a "Be Counted" form at any of dozens of locations across the region, she said. "Be Counted" forms are available at many public libraries, government offices, community centers and churches.

Unlike forms delivered to residences, "Be Counted" forms are not preprinted with addresses that have been verified by census workers as a habitable dwellings. As a result, census employees will visit residents that submit a "Be Counted" form to confirm that someone lives at the address provided, Loyola said.

Hand-delivery of census questionnaires ended last week in places hard hit by the 2005 hurricanes, Loyola said. In an unprecedented and expensive effort, forms were dropped off beginning March 1 at every household in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes; parts of Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes; and sections of southern Mississippi and eastern Texas. If no one answered the door, a form was left in a plastic bag tied to the knob.

Forms were mailed to other households starting March 15. All questionnaires were expected to be en route to residents by Saturday.

April 1 is not a deadline

Though census forms ask residents to list everyone living in household on April 1, 2010, the date is not a deadline, said Gabriel Sanchez, director of the Dallas Regional Census Center, which covers southeast Louisiana. Residents can still send back the forms, he said.

"The April 1 date is when a statistical 'snapshot' of America is taken," Sanchez said in a prepared statement. "Information reflected on April 1 will help draw a complete portrait of America."

Households that don't return questionnaires by mid- to late April can expect to be visited in mid-May by census workers who will try to glean household information in face-to-face interviews.

Given the historic evacuation of the region after Hurricane Katrina and the slow recovery of some neighborhoods, local leaders have urged residents to mail back their census forms quickly. Besides providing the most accurate population picture since the 2005 storm, the 2010 tally will determine congressional representation and the distribution of about $400 billion in federal money annually for the next 10 years.

Some households missed

Dianne Washington, who lives in the eastern New Orleans neighborhood of Little Woods, complained Thursday that she had not received a census form, though plastic bags with the questionnaires had been hung on the front doors of several houses on her street, including vacant ones.

Washington, a 61-year-old retiree, received a courtesy postcard by mail reminding her to respond to the census. "If I got a card in the mail telling me to fill out my census form, I should not have to track them down," she said. "They know where I stay."

Washington, who said she was the first person to return to her block after Katrina, said it's important to her that she not be missed. "One thing, I'm a U.S. citizen, and I would like to be counted," she said. "Also, (it's about) the funds that will come to New Orleans if everyone is counted. If it's not being done (correctly), we're going to be short-changed some federal funds."

Loyola could not say how or why some households were missed by canvassers or lost in the mail. She simply urged anyone who hasn't yet gotten a questionnaire at home to pick up a "Be Counted" form.

Louisiana below national average

As of Thursday, 54 percent of households nationwide had returned their forms, slightly higher than the 48 percent return rate in Louisiana, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Across the metro region, participation rates ranged from 33 percent in New Orleans to 55 percent in St. Tammany Parish. In Jefferson and St. Charles parishes, 53 percent of households had returned their questionnaires, while 49 percent of St. John the Baptist Parish residents had mailed back their forms. Plaquemines Parish's mail participation rate stood at 44 percent, while in St. Bernard Parish, 37 percent of households had returned the forms, census data show.

The rate excludes households whose forms were returned by the U.S. Postal Service as "undeliverable."

Residents who need helping filling out the form can call the census's toll-free help lines at 1.866.872.6868 for English, 1.866.928.2010 for Spanish, 1.866.945.2010 for Vietnamese, 1.866.935.2010 for Chinese, 1.866.955.2010 for Korean and 1.866.965.2010 for Russian.

A map showing sites where the "Be Counted" forms are available can be found at http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map. Click on "Find a questionnaire assistance center" then type in your ZIP code.