Census Campaign

A sign on the western outskirts of Vermillion lists the community population at 10,571. That number will likely change and the city will benefit in several ways if a local campaign urging all Vermillion citizens to fill out the 2020 census form provides a more accurate population count and better demographic information.

As the new year begins the 2020 census looms on the horizon, though still in the early stages.

An accurate census is of huge importance to our community, said Kelsey Collier-Wise, executive director of United Way of Vermillion. Weve missed out on millions of dollars in federal funding because of previous census undercounts funding that couldve helped our friends and neighbors and made Clay County stronger.

According to Vermillion Assistant City Manager James Purdy, people will receive notices about the upcoming census in March before the official Census Day of April 1.

They basically do follow ups April through July and try to reach people that didnt respond, Purdy said. On Dec. 31 of 2020 is when the counts are delivered to the President.

The public has a new option this year to complete the census online as well as in paper or over telephone.

According to Purdy, it is extremely important for everyone, not just permanent residents, to fill out the census.

One of the big misconceptions is that students are not residents of Vermillion or Clay County when it pertains to the census and thats not accurate, Purdy said. The census basically counts where someone has been living for the majority of the year on April 1. So its not where they get their mail sent, its not where their parents live, where theyre from originally or anything like that. If youre a student, for example, at USD and you live in Vermillion throughout the year to attend school then you should be filling out the census as a Vermillion/Clay county resident.

For those concerned about the census leading to privacy breaches by the government and other negative consequences, Purdy said there is nothing to worry about.

I know this day and age a lot of folks are concerned with privacy, Purdy said. The census data is basically sealed by the federal government for 72 years. So that data is not released to anyone for any reason until long after those who have participated are already dead. So, if youre a student this doesnt impact your parents claiming you as a deduction or financial aid or anything like that. Its just strictly protected data for census purposes only. Really what it is is a snapshot of where people have been on April 1.

Its a snapshot where accuracy has significant financial and political consequences.

The federal government uses census data to allocate a pretty significant amount of funding, Purdy said. In 2010, the census bureau estimates that the central tract of Vermillion, so the central business district, campus area of Vermillion which I think is one of three tracts in Clay County, they estimated that this tract was undercounted by 25.4 percent.

At that time, Purdy said, the federal funds lost due to undercounting came to $1,179 per person per year that were not allocated to this area.

Conservatively youre talking several million dollars per year, Purdy said. For the 2020 census with inflation and things like that the number that I know has been discussed with some of the mayors and community leaders in South Dakota, because its area specific, they say that for every person counted or not counted in the 2020 census that number equals $1,597.

Purdy said the majority of the funds go to programs such as Medicaid, the state childrens health insurance program, foster care, and adoption assistance.

Beyond these programs, the data gathered by an accurate census count helps best meet the needs of a community.

The census also provides us with essential data that helps government, nonprofits, and businesses make important decisions, Collier-Wise said. United Way uses census data to understand the demographics of our community, especially related to poverty. It helps us understand who needs assistance and what kind. And it helps us educate the rest of the community about what the real needs are.

According to the government website 2020census.gov, the census has larger-reaching effects as census data is used to redraw congressional district lines.

The 435 seats in the House of Representatives are divided up among the states by population so undercounting can lead to underrepresentation at the federal level.

The governments website is very clear on what questions will be asked.

According to the site, the only questions that will be asked pertain to the age, race, sex, and relationship of the individuals living in each home.

These simple questions with far-reaching consequences have been a challenge to collect in the past in Vermillion.

The federal government and the census bureau label areas based on the percentage of people that werent counted as hard to count and we are an officially designated hard-to-count area, Purdy said. I think a lot of it is the student factor. Also, probably the rural nature of the county.

Purdy, along with other influential Vermillion residents, are determined to increase participation this round.

The census bureau encourages people to put together these local committees because they know the communities best and can get people involved, Purdy said. I think were still working our way through planning but we definitely want to have a significant awareness campaign and try to get as many people out to take it and remove as many barriers as we can because were talking about major ramifications financially for this area due to people not coming in.

The Vermillion/Clay County complete count committee is meeting essentially monthly until the close of the census, according to Purdy, with everyone contributing ideas.

Every organization on this committee has a different work plan, Purdy said. For example with the city our work plan includes census logos on all of our agendas from now until census day as well as well be doing a proclamation. Well be doing reminders on peoples utility bills and then putting a slide up on the Channel 3 public access channel.

According to Purdy, those on the committee from the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company (VCDC) will head the advertising and awareness effort.

I think theres going to be some census day activities like a celebration of some sort, Purdy said. Part of the plan is to make sure that since the census is available online and its the easiest and fastest way to do it that we make that as accessible to people in the community as possible. To that end theres going to be census taking stations available throughout the community where people can go and use a laptop and fill out the census.

The various organizations will also be reminding people who stop in to participate.

According to Purdy, there will also be a strong emphasis on USD student participation with mass text reminders and possible class time to complete the census.

Purdy emphasized again that the information individuals provide will only be used for the census and will not be harmful in any way.

When I was a student I would have thought it would negatively affect me or my parents in some way or I dont claim Vermillion as my address because I send my mail to my parents house but its just where you are physically located on April 1.

Purdy is optimistic about participation in the 2020 census.

Previously it wasnt available online, it was just a thing you got in the mail and if you didnt mail it back it didnt get counted, Purdy said. Im sure a lot of people probably set it aside on their table and found it six months later and thought it was over. So I have high hopes that since people have the ability to sort of instantaneously complete it that the numbers nationwide will improve as well as ours.

According to Purdy, the next committee meeting will be held Jan. 21 where more ideas will be presented by the marketing group.

Members of the committee include the following: John Prescott and James Purdy from the city; Vermillion School Superintendent Damon Alvey; Katherine Heine with VCDC; Ed Gerrish from USD; Scott Poulson from USD; Hailie Warren from USD; USD student representatives; Steve Ford - Grace Baptist Church; Kesley Collier-Wise with United Way; Richard Hammond, Clay County Commissioner; Daniel Burniston, Vermillion Public Library.

For area-specific census questions contact James Purdy at City Hall.

For more general information on the 2020 census visit https://2020census.gov/en/community-impact.html.

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