Starting March 16, the US Census began mailing forms to every household in the country. Amidst the current coronavirus crisis, it’s even more important now for everyone to know that it has never been easier or safer to complete the census online, by the phone, or by mail – all without a census taker coming to your door.

Since 1790, the United States has counted everyone living within its borders every ten years. Like voting, completing the census is an important part of civic engagement and responsibility, and it’s about representation and money. Census data is used to help determine the number of Representatives states send to Congress, as well as the amount of funding states receive from the federal government.

Each year, Maine receives roughly $4 billion in federal funding (excluding Medicare) for important public services and infrastructure like schools, health care, and roads. However, if there is an undercount in Maine, we may not get our full share of funding to support these critical resources in our communities.

To ensure the census is broadly accessible and easy to complete, the census form is available in a variety of ways this year. For the first time, the census can be completed online, over the phone, or in traditional paper form. All census materials have been printed in both English and Spanish, and for eleven other common languages, such as French and Portuguese, one can respond either online or over the phone. How-to guides and videos explaining each question are also available in 59 languages. For most people, it should only take about 10 minutes to answer the nine questions on the form and ensure everyone in the household is counted.

The safety and security of private information is taken very seriously by the Census Bureau. Census employees are sworn to protect confidentiality and cannot give information to another government entity, such as police, ICE or a landlord. If someone employed by the Census Bureau breaks that confidentiality, they could go to jail for up to 5 years and could pay a $250,000 fine. The online form is also encrypted and safeguarded with multiple firewalls. For reference, the census asks for less personal information than Facebook and is far more secure.

Knowing privacy concerns persist, the best way to ensure that everyone completes the census is for trusted individuals like teachers, school nurses, social workers, pediatricians, child care providers and grandparents talk with community members about the importance and impact of completing the census, as well as the safeguards that are in place to protect privacy. If you interact with parents and families in your work, you can provide additional information to them, encourage them to complete the census, and to count everyone living in the home when they do. You can access more resources and learn more about what you can do to ensure a complete count here Census 2020 for ME KIDS.

When everyone gets counted, communities get their fair share of funding, ensuring those living there get the resources they need to thrive. That’s especially true for young children, whose lives will be deeply impacted by whether those programs and services are provided to them, or not, in their early years. Counting everyone in the 2020 Census will take the efforts of all of us. We hope you’ll take the time to learn more about the Census so that you can help your families, friends, neighbors and those you work with understand that filling out the Census 2020 benefits their community.

Michael Cormier is a board member of the Maine Children’s Alliance.

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