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The Plumas County Board of Supervisors received a report from Tribal Partnership Specialist Pam Ames, a census worker, at its Tuesday, April 6, meeting.
Supervisor and Chairwoman Sherrie Thrall said it was her impression the board wanted the item on the agenda to stress “the absolute importance” of filling out census forms.
Thrall said participation in the census was crucial to local government and funding of local programs, and that it also played a role in redistricting of supervisor districts.
Ames confirmed Thrall’s comments, “Over $300 billion per year in federal monies is distributed based on census data.
“What we want to do is make sure you get your fair share; and when you’re undercounted, you’re then underfunded.”
She also told the board a Brookings Institute Report indicated state and local governments lost $1,300 for every person who wasn’t counted.
When populations are undercounted there is kind of a cycle of underfunding and poverty.
Ames told the board Plumas’ participation rate was low compared to other counties and prior years.
Ames also attempted to reassure county residents about the safety of the process.
“The census is part of U.S. constitutional law — done every 10 years since 1790. You’re answers are safe and protected by law. Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects your confidentiality and your privacy.”
“Your name and your address, any personal information is protected by law for 72 years. Only after 72 years the information may be released and then by that time your grandchildren will be doing genealogy.”
Thrall agreed, explaining she did family research and discovered a number of her ancestors on the 1790 census.
“That’s something that people need to think about. Even if they don’t want big brother to know who they are today,” she said.
“They may have someone years from now wanting to know who they were because they were their relative and it’s such a thrill to find that and be able to trace those families through every 10 years, what they were doing, where they lived, where they moved, who was in their families.
“So even from a family resource point of view it’s a huge asset.”
In an interview Ames said the confidentiality of the information “has been challenged in court by the FBI, the CIA and the Freedom of Information Act, and the courts have all held that the information is protected.”
She said the law stood up even after the Patriot Act was passed.
She also stressed that census workers “are sworn non-reporters.”
“We cannot report anything that we see while we’re on the job. All we want to do is count.
“We don’t care what you’re doing, what you’re growing. All we want to do is count, so there’s really no reason to fear us.”
At the supervisors’ meeting, Ames said the census was used to create data summaries to show things like age ranges by region.
Readers may go to census.gov to see some of the information posted from past censuses and the American Community Survey.
Ames explained ACS was the group that took over the old long form of the census that asked more detailed questions in smaller statistical samples.
When ACS took over that function, it made the census simpler; this, in turn, makes it more likely for people to fill it out.
Quincy Supervisor Lori Simpson asked if it was true that the census was only delivered by mail to houses that had street mailing addresses.
Ames confirmed that, and said someone would hang the form on a fence or drop it off at a doorstep for people who only had post office boxes.
“We’re still delivering it in some of the more rural areas.”
A sidebar attached to this story provides information for people who still haven’t received their census forms or have questions about filling it out.
Indian Valley Supervisor Robert Meacher told Ames a lot of people who hadn’t received a form went to their post office for help: He thought it was strange the census bureau hadn’t anticipated that and provided information to the postal service.
Ames replied there were guidelines on how the census bureau could work with other federal agencies.
Meacher told her if the bureau could just ask rural post offices to put a flier on their bulletin boards it would help a lot. She said she’d look into that option.
Simpson asked if there were laws against burning a census form, as she heard anti-government people were doing that.
Ames said participation in the census was legally mandated and there were civil penalties, such as fines, that could technically be enforced, but in reality a census worker usually just got the information from a neighbor if someone didn’t want to cooperate.
In an interview Ames explained people think they’re sticking it to “the man” when they don’t fill out the form, but in reality their local area gets less funding.
“You’re sticking it to yourself actually,” she said.
She also explained California could have gained another seat in the House of Representatives if it had been fully counted in the 2000 census.
Many sources have reported the state could lose as many as two seats this year if undercounted again.
Ames also indicated people should be counted where they live most of the year, so kids in college should fill out their own forms instead of being added onto their parents’ entry.
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