PORTSMOUTH — A ruling by the Supreme Court Tuesday could have immediate and lasting impact on Portsmouth and Scioto County in terms of federal funding for schools, public safety and infrastructure.
The high court’s decision allowed the self-response and field data collection operations for the 2020 census to be cut short of its originally amended Oct. 31 deadline, the census bureau later announcing that the collection will be available through Oct. 15. The amended deadline, set first at the end of July, was permitted due to the coronavirus.
While the bureau reports that over 99.9% of housing units have been accounted for as of Oct. 13, self-response rates for Portsmouth and Scioto County are lower than the state average and its measure from the previous census according to the 2020 Census Self-Response Rates Map.
Measuring the percentage of those that have responded to the census online, by mail or by phone, Portsmouth’s rate of 56.1% ranked 735 out of 928 Ohio cities. Scioto County, with a slightly better rate of 60.5%, is 81st of 88 counties and behind its 2010 rate of 65.4%.
Findings from the census are used by the federal government in its determination of how much one area receives of the $675 billion in federal funds per year, money that is used for schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other programs. Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis said low response rates will lead to a smaller share of the county’s cut of those funds.
“If we show a lower population, then we can lose representation in Congress as far as redistricting and we can lose federal funding,” said Davis, who works alongside Commissioners Cathy Coleman and Mike Crabtree as the area’s Complete Count Committee. “We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars. We’re not talking about a small amount of money here.”
“I don’t think anyone feels we should get less funding,” added 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne. “I think everyone thinks we should get more funding, especially this year.”
Portsmouth’s response rate was a “disappointment” for Dunne but hopes the city and the county will see this as a learning opportunity for the next census in 2030.
“One of the things we can look at is how other cities communicating the importance of this and how are they encouraging this,” said Dunne, including the city had also used social media to get the word out.
Despite his posts on the Commissioners’ Facebook page and conversations with the public, Davis cannot determine why many in the county don’t want to respond. Submitting his own response online was easy for him, but Davis acknowledged that a significant portion of the county’s population does not have access to the broadband.
As previously reported by the Portsmouth Daily Times, internet access in Scioto County is among the worst of Ohio counties. According to US census estimates from 2014 to 2018, the county had the 11th-lowest percentage of households with a broadband internet subscription. 70.5% had a subscription, compared to the state average of 79.7%.
Davis is also aware that many are wary of the data-collection, which breaks down the population into categories such as age, sex, race, education and income, which could be unsecure or hurt them in unforessen ways.
“There’s no nefarious attempt to gather data that is in any way going to harm anyone,” said Davis, Title 13 of the U.S. Code preventing the Bureau from publishing private information such as names, addresses, social security numbers or telephone numbers. “I think it’s just an underlying fear that people feel that the government knows too much about them already and they don’t want or feel the government needs to know anything more.”
Along with these fears, the Committee must deal with rumors or false claims. One that he is heard from a few is that answering the census will lead to jury duty, a claim marred in falsehoods.
“It’s hard to overcome those issues,” said Davis. “And I really don’t know how to overcome those issues of fear.”
Those wishing to submit their information can visit the 2020 Census website, but must do so before 6 a.m. Oct. 16.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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