April 14, 2010 | Hattiesburg American | Original Article

Push on as deadline for census nears

As the deadline to file federal and state income taxes looms, so does the deadline to mail in the census forms.

Friday is the final day folks can put a stamp on their 2010 questionnaires to avoid door-to-door visits from census workers.

According to Kat Smith, Census Bureau spokeswoman, census workers will start their door-to-door counts around May 1 at households that failed to respond to the "10 questions, 10 minutes" survey.

As of Tuesday, about 67 percent of the nation already had mailed in surveys, according to the 2010 Census' Web site.

Mississippi residents are lagging behind with only 60 percent of the population having submitted completed questionnaires.

Elected representatives and officials across the Pine Belt have been on a zealous campaign to get folks to participate this year.

Dismal participation in 2000 resulted in the state's loss of a representative in the U.S. House and thousands of dollars in federal dollars and incentives, officials said.

So far, 61 percent of the population in Forrest County has mailed back questionnaires, according to the 2010 Census Web site's Participation Map.

Thanks in part to strategic planning and outreach of the county's 2010 Census Committee, comprised of approximately 20 community volunteers, officials said.

But as the Friday deadline quickly approaches, County Planner Kara Drane said public service announcements featuring members of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors will begin airing this week in a last-ditch effort to get residents to fill out the questionnaires.

"The PSAs will basically remind residents how important it is," Drane said. "Hopefully that will remind some residents who still have the form to go ahead and fill it out. Obviously we want to have the highest response rate as we can."

As of Tuesday, the city of Petal had the highest participation rate of a Forrest County municipality with 70 percent.

Hattiesburg trails with a 53 percent participation rate.

"I can't stress any more how important it is for everyone to fill it out," Mayor Johnny DuPree said Tuesday. "We lost a congressman and between $500,000 to $600,000 because of the decrease in population for the state during the last census."

DuPree, who also has shot PSAs that are in heavy rotation on network channels, said city officials have reached out to area ministers to advocate the value of the census to their congregations.

"The public has direct benefit from filling it out - especially if you can count everyone and get those numbers up," he said.

Smith said questionnaires can still be mailed in after the Friday deadline, but that wouldn't guarantee a census worker would not visit that household.

"We're going to continue with the same amount of advertising we've been doing," Smith said. "But at this point, it's starting to run out. If people are not serious by now, it's almost a mute point.

"We're doing everything we can to get them to participate so at this point it's scary."