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Answering Your Questions As 2020 Census Forms Hit Mailboxes And How Coronavirus Could Impact The National Count

A map shows the locations of the U.S. Census Bureau's regional offices for the 2020 census.
A map shows the locations of the U.S. Census Bureau's regional offices for the 2020 census.
via NPR

The 2020 census is off and running for much of America now, but the coronavirus outbreak is expected to have a notable impact on conducting the count.

The U.S. Census Bureau released a statement on Wednesday saying they are monitoring the situation and encouraging households to respond online, by mail or over the phone so as not to come into close contact with a census taker.

Monday marked the soft launch of the 2020 census website as forms became available online. Today, the Census Bureau will begin mailing out notices far and wide. For the bureau, the once-a-decade head count is akin to running a sprint and marathon at the same time. It takes a while, but there's plenty of action throughout. The bureau had an official in-person launch in January in Toksook Bay, Alaska. Mail service is spotty and internet connectivity is unreliable in remote Alaska, making door-to-door canvassing the best way to gather responses.

There has been a U.S. census every decade since 1790. The results determine how many congressional seats each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed. The 2020 census is the first in which most people are being encouraged to answer the questions online, though people can still answer the questionnaire by telephone or by mailing back a paper form if they prefer. The notices mailed out starting this week will include a census ID that matches addresses. People filling out the form via the internet are encouraged to use the ID, but those who answer the questions online before getting their IDs still will be counted.

Today on AirTalk, we’ll chat with experts on the U.S. Census about why today is the beginning in earnest of the 2020 Census, the materials you’ll be getting in the mail, tips for making sure you and everyone in your household is counted, and how the U.S. Census Bureau plans to navigate the coronavirus outbreak.

With files from the Associated Press


Deborah Stempowski, assistant director for Decennial Programs for U.S. Census Bureau

Terri Ann Lowenthal, census expert and consultant for the Funders’ Census Initiative 2020, a coalition of foundations and philanthropic-serving organizations that support a fair and accurate census; she served as staff director of the House Census Oversight Subcommittee from 1987-1994 and covered Census Bureau and broader federal statistical activities for the 2008 Obama Presidential Transition Team