Even as government and public attention is focused on the new coronavirus pandemic, the Census 2020 drive is in almost-full swing on Maui with much ground yet to cover, figuratively and quite literally, to approach the goal of 100% participation.
As of Tuesday, 31.7% of Maui County households had completed a census survey, 25.6% via the internet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That trails the national (45.7 %) and state (38.8%) response rates but is still ahead of the other neighbor island counties of Kauai (28.5%), Hawaii (22.3%) and Kalawao (4%). The figures are considered preliminary and will likely differ from the final rate because it includes vacant housing units.
As a state, Hawaii has traditionally recorded a below-average response rate to the decennial census. In 2010 the state response rate was 61.4%, while the national rate was 74%.
“Getting an accurate count is one of the pillars of democracy, and we need everyone to participate,” said Deputy Regional Director Jeffrey Enos. “We’re counting on everyone to do their part.”
Most Hawaii households received an initial census mailer in mid-March inviting them to respond by phone or internet.
Census workers were a week into a so-called “update leave” operation, updating housing unit numbers and leaving census packets for those in rural communities or other areas without regular postal service, when the operation was halted in accordance with COVID-19 precautions. The initiative has been tentatively scheduled to restart Wednesday .
Also delayed will be scheduled outreach operations to conduct in-person follow-up with households that did not respond; arrange counting of group quarters such as prisons, nursing homes and dormitories; survey soup kitchens, shelters and other services to get a count of regular visitors; and count homeless and transitory populations.
The Census Bureau must still report population totals of each state to the president by Dec. 31.
On April 1, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino kicked off the island’s census drive with a reminder to residents to participate both for their personal benefit and the good of the county and state.
“While we stay at home to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community, it’s important for everyone to be counted in the 2020 Census,” Victorino said in a news release. “Responding to the Census is easy and can be done online, by phone or by mail. Your participation results in real dollars for the people of Maui County.”
An accurate census count helps to ensure the county and state receive their proper allocations of the estimated $675 billion in funding the federal government distributes each year.
As the Mayor’s Office noted, such funds help to strengthen and support schools and the county’s early childhood education program; Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.; Medicaid health insurance for low- income residents; roads and other infrastructure; and public housing. It is estimated that each response brings back more than $1,500 to Maui, Lanai and Molokai.
Census officials are reminding the public the survey does not require information on citizenship or finances.
Census data also is used for drawing legislative and school districts; planning for services, infrastructure and development; and determining allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In a pandemic situation like the current COVID-19 crisis, census data could help determine vaccine production and distribution, census officials said.
Enos said that despite new and innovative initiatives to reach out to educate communities about the importance of the census, old fears, concerns and misunderstandings persist.
Some people fear that personal information could be shared and used against them. But as Enos emphasized, Title 13 of the U.S. Code makes it illegal to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual or business.
“We cannot share your information with anyone, including government agencies like immigration, the IRS or housing,” Enos said. “We don’t even ask about immigration status or income.”
Enos said others might not understand how easy the process is — a simple matter of answering 10 questions that takes most people 10 minutes or less to complete. Households can respond online at my 2020census.gov, by calling 844-330-2020 (assistance is available in 16 languages and TDD) or by mailing in a hard-copy form.
“We want to emphasize to everyone that it’s safe, it’s simple and it’s important,” Enos said.