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Rural counties in Idaho report low census response rates

| August 4, 2020 9:53 AM

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Census Bureau says rural counties in Idaho are struggling to get citizens counted, with some counties reporting a response rate of less than 50%.

Valley County has a population of about 11,000 and a response rate of 30%, while Camas County has a population of about 1,100 and a response rate of 28%, the agency said.

Those figures are less than half the response rates of Idaho's most populated counties, Ada and Canyon counties, which have reported response rates of 77% and 74%, the Idaho Press reported Monday.

The lower response rates in less populated counties can be attributed to fewer citizens with internet access, more households with P.O. boxes and an increase in multiple-properties, such as vacation cabins, officials said.

Cynda Herrick, who leads a Census Complete Count Committee in Valley County, said some residents may not want to be found and others may not see online advertisements or ignore reminders and invitations that come by mail.

The census determines how federal funds are distributed for community programs and initiatives for the next 10 years, according to the bureau. The data also shapes programs in rural communities related to education, business grants, home rental assistance, housing preservation grants and other programs.

The bureau mailed invitations to most homes between March 12 and 20 with instructions on how to respond to the survey. People who received their mail at a P.O. Box were part of the bureau’s “Update Leave” operation, where census workers dropped off paper questionnaires at their homes.

The program began in May, but was suspended from March to May 6 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most in-person follow ups are expected to begin Aug. 11.

On Monday, the bureau announced that households will be able to respond online, by phone or by mail until the end of September so that it can meet an end-of-year deadline to submit numbers for the redrawing of congressional districts. Census workers will continue to knock on doors until the end of September.

That announcement came as legislation that would have extended the national head count’s deadlines stalled in the U.S. Senate.