The Sylva Herald, by Jim Buchanan

As the clock runs down on the opportunity to respond to the 2020 Census, response rates continue to lag in Jackson County.

The deadline to respond to the census, which determines political boundaries and allocates tax dollars, is Sept. 30. Nationwide the national census self-response rate stood at 66 percent. Statewide, North Carolinians had responded at a 62.2 percent clip. In Jackson County the self-response rate was 35.6 percent, which is actually above the 2010 rate of 33.7 percent.

The N.C. Department of Administration Communications Office said last week that about 1.6 million North Carolina households representing nearly 4 million people had not responded, putting nearly $7.4 billion in funding over the next decade at risk. Additionally, an undercount could mean the state might be denied a 14th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The 2020 Census is North Carolina’s opportunity to bring back federal tax dollars to communities for critical infrastructure, planning and services,” said N.C. Department of Administration Secretary and N.C. Complete Count Commission Chair Machelle Sanders. “Undercounting North Carolina’s residents represents real dollars lost, real community programs underfunded, and real people whose needs are going underserved or unserved.”

Locally, census allocation dollars go to help fund schools and education, a variety of food programs, infrastructure projects, Medicare, Medicaid, emergency services and more.

Jackie Simms, chair of the programs and grants committee at Dogwood Health Trust, said, “Western North Carolina has historically been undercounted in the census, and 2020 is no exception. Completing the census is safe, easy and convenient. It takes less than 10 minutes and can be done via the computer, mobile phone, telephone or paper form.” Dogwood has partnered with counties in WNC and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in efforts to expand census response rates.

The Census Bureau has added a “total response rate” category, which includes self-responses, follow-responses obtained by Bureau “door knockers,” and takes into account seasonal homes and households that didn’t respond to census worker visits. That count puts North Carolina’s “total response rate” at 88.5 percent, 44th in the nation.

Respondents can complete the census online at my2020census.gov. People without broadband access can complete the census by phone or mail. Those seeking assistance can contact the 2020 Census Hotline at 844-330-2020 (English) or 844-468-2020 (Spanish)