Be Counted and Be Healthy: The Census and COVID-19


Bob Hughes, Former President & CEO

Now is the time to be counted, but it’s also the time to maintain your health by keeping a safe distance (six feet) from other people as much as possible. Fortunately, these two things are a good match. For the first time ever, the Census can be completed online or by phone, meaning that physical distancing offers you the perfect opportunity to respond and make sure that #MissouriCounts.

The virus that causes COVID-19 has upended every aspect of our lives. Each of us is figuring out how we can prevent becoming infected, and if we suspect we may have been exposed or infected, how to get the medical help we need to care for ourselves and protect others. It is the ultimate example of how much each of us is part of an interconnected network that we often take for granted. From everyone involved in producing and preparing our food to the health care workers caring for those most affected by the virus, we are all dependent on others.

The Census also is a reminder of being connected to something larger – that each of us is part of our nation. Designed to provide an official count of the U.S. population and to determine how federal funding is allocated, the Census is built into our Constitution and has happened every 10 years since 1790. The Foundation has been working with many partners across Missouri for a year and a half to raise awareness about the importance of this once-in-a-decade opportunity.

In the midst of everything else going on, the time is here to stand up and be counted. Please talk to your family, neighbors, and broader networks (either virtually or at a safe distance!) to make sure everyone understands the value of responding.

As the federal government passes laws to respond to COVID-19, it is likely that a good portion of those funds will be allocated to Missouri based on the previous (2010) Census. The 2020 Census will be the basis for state allocation of federal funds for the next decade, which is likely to include massive economic development and health funding. Therefore, we have even more reason to make sure we are counting everyone, even the littlest ones in our homes. because for every adult or every child that goes uncounted, Missouri will lose $1,300 per person per year. Those are funds that we won’t get for our hospitals, health centers, schools, and food programs. This may be a low estimate if federal funding increases significantly in response to COVID-19, as expected.

I received my Census information in the mail earlier this month. I chose to fill it out online, but you can also respond by phone or by paper form (although most people won’t receive a paper form until later in the process). Responding online was easy. It took me about eight minutes to complete the questions, a bit less than the 10 minutes estimated on the Census website.

If you’re like me, you like to know before you start what the questions are. I found the website’s list of questions, along with why they are being asked, quite helpful. Answering them online consisted mainly of checking boxes or using easy drop-down menus; the limited typing was mostly entering names. I also appreciated the overall navigation, which allowed for editing responses. You should have received a Census letter in the mail with an ID number you can enter before you start filling out questions, but you can still respond online or by phone if you’ve misplaced your code.

In addition to filling out your Census information, you may be able to help by working with the Census directly. As COVID-19 drives spikes in unemployment, the Census finds itself in need of additional workers. A good place to start is their official site.

Responding effectively to COVID-19 requires an unprecedented collective effort. It is based on the simple recognition that the health of any of us depends on the health of all of us. In these times of extreme uncertainty, finding ways to exercise control can be therapeutic. One thing each of us can have control over is responding to the Census. It is an act that connects us back to our nation’s founding, and as each of us individually participates, together we are affirming our faith in the future of our country.