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How Forsyth County is getting ready for the 2020 census
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More than 2,000 attended the 2019 Forsyth County News Trunk or Treat on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, at Otwell Middle School. - photo by Brian Paglia

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, the 2020 Census kicked off in the remote Alaska fishing community of Toksook Bay in the Bering Sea, two months before the rest of the U.S. can start completing the questionnaire in mid-March. But Forsyth County has already formed a committee of community stakeholders to reach as many residents as possible.

Forsyth County and the city of Cumming have joined to form a Complete Count Committee tasked with pushing census marketing material to every corner of the city and county, particularly to hard-to-count areas and populations, to communicate the importance of responding to the 2020 Census.

The results of the 2020 census help determine the distribution of federal and state funding and the apportionment of government representation. 

Forsyth County’s committee is comprised of more than 80 local churches, veterans groups, nonprofits, government agencies, civic groups, hospitals, businesses, the local school system and colleges and other organizations.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau began a $500 million public education and outreach campaign featuring more than 1,000 ads designed to reach 99% of all U.S. households.

Local outreach campaigns will begin to roll out this month, according to Karen Shields, director of communications with Forsyth County government, through the county’s social media channels and at libraries, parks and other county buildings. 

From now until March 12 is what the Census Bureau calls the “awareness/education phase,” Shields said, before residents can start responding online and by telephone. This is the first census in which the Census Bureau is encouraging most people to answer the questions via the internet. 

The Census Bureau plans to send out the first round of notices explaining how to participate during the second week of March. It will send up to four more rounds of mailings, including a paper questionnaire, in March and April to households that haven’t responded. 

By May, census workers will go door-to-door to count households that have not yet responded. 

Those households generally fall into the category of hard-to-count areas or populations: gated communities; children under 5; those displaced by natural disasters; new immigrant populations; populations that speak little or no English; or hidden or overcrowded housing. 

Only 10% of households in Forsyth County lived in hard-to-count areas or populations in 2010, Shields said, but that number could be impacted by the county’s continued growth since then. 

Forsyth County had 175,511 residents in 2010, according to that census. Forsyth County’s population increased by more than 61,000 by 2018, according to the Census Bureau’s latest population estimate in 2018.

Getting an accurate count of the county’s population will be crucial, Shields said, to determine its representation in Congress and the share it will receive of $1.5 trillion of federal funding. Programs that use census data include Medicaid, SNAP, Section 8 housing, Title I grants to schools, as well as highway construction projects.

According to Shields, 80% of households in Forsyth County mailed back census questionnaires in 2010.

Shields is holding this year’s efforts to the standard of a slogan that Gov. Brian Kemp coined for Georgia’s census marketing campaign: “Every. One. Counts.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.