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OPINION: Fill out those Census forms!

OPINION: Fill out those Census forms!


There, I did it. I counted myself. My work is done, so the rest of it is up to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Turns out there’s a bit more to it than that, though. Census Day is April 1 and they’re going to try to contact every household in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each home, according to the Census Bureau website, will receive an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire.

A tall order, indeed, but households can now respond online, by phone or by mail, and there are “hundreds of thousands of temporary census takers” who will use smartphones “to follow up with households that don't respond.”

But why all this fuss?

Well, because the Constitution says they have to do it. The count is mandated by the Constitution and conducted by the Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency that’s part of the Department of Commerce. The Founders wanted a count, an “actual enumeration,” every 10 years, of all persons — not all citizens — living in the United States. There was no citizenship question back in 1790, when this all started, and there is no citizenship question today.

Even so, there are folks who have reasons to fear that they’ll regret having filled out the forms. It is true that during World War II, under the Second War Powers Act, the Census Bureau did provide authorities on the West Coast with information that helped them round up Japanese and Japanese Americans and put them into internment camps. 

But this blight on our national history must not be repeated. And according to, “… the bureau and its employees may not share personal census responses with any other government agency or official (federal, state, or local), outside entity (such as a business), or court of law for any reason.” That sounds pretty bulletproof to me.

The reason for the count was, and is, to provide accurate data for the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives and to help define the boundaries of congressional districts, but it also helps to determine state legislative districts, school districts, and voting precincts.

Beyond that, it affects the distribution of funds for hundreds of government programs. In fiscal year 2015 alone, Census Bureau data guided the distribution of more than $675 billion to 132 programs, including:

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Medicare Part B Physicians Fees; Federal Pell Grant Program; National School Lunch Program; Title 1 Grants to Local Educational Agencies; Head Start; Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Children's Health Insurance Program; School Breakfast Program; Low-Income Home Energy Assistance; Unemployment Insurance; Crime Victim Assistance; Community Development Block Grants; Wildlife Restoration; Maternal and Child Health Services; Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program; Family Violence Prevention and Services; Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund Program; Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities; Historic Preservation Fund Grants-in-Aid; Programs for Prevention of Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation — and many, many more.

Since we probably don’t want to lose our fair share of that money — and since we definitely don’t want to lose a seat in the House of Representatives, as we did after the 2000 census — I figure I’ll cooperate with this one.

Reach Glenn Richter at