OKLAHOMA CITY – On Monday afternoon, members of the Senate Rules Committee learned about the importance of census participation and the negative impact that can occur from under-reporting. Presentations were made by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan, requested the interim study to learn how census counts impact Oklahoma.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 76% of Oklahoma households mailed back their 2010 census questionnaire, accounting for a significant undercount. 

Brent Kisling, the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which is leading the state’s census efforts, explained that participation rates have a major impact on economic development. Businesses use the census when deciding where to locate or expand. It also impacts cities, counties and the state overall when applying for various grants and other federal funding.

Daniel Billingsley, vice president of external affairs at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, pointed out that an undercount of just 2% could cost the state as much as $1.8 billion over 10 years in lost economic development and federal funding. Every citizen not counted in the census costs the state approximately $1,800 per year in lost federal funding for 10 years.

George State University reported that based on the 2010 census, Oklahoma received in FY 2016 just over $9.36 billion through 55 federal spending programs including, among others, Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, CDBG, national school lunch programs, Pell grants, highway planning and construction grants, and HUD grants.

Leaders are most concerned with getting an accurate count of children and other underrepresented populations like minorities, transient or homeless individuals and those with disabilities.

Joe Dorman, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, pointed out that for the first time, citizens will be able to take the census online, by phone or through mail. However, in 2017, nearly 23% of Oklahoma households had no internet or only had dial-up. Dorman said the nonprofit community will be partnering with local libraries and other entities to ensure all Oklahomans are aware of their options to be counted.

The presenters also stressed the importance of having enough census workers in the state and encouraged Oklahomans to apply. Applications are now being accepted for full-time and part-time positions. The application can be found at https://2020census.gov/jobs.

Citizens will get a postcard with a link to the census questionnaire in mid-March 2020. Once citizens respond, they will receive no further correspondence. If no response is submitted, another reminder postcard will be sent out between August and September 2020 and then an in-person visit may be conducted if possible. 

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