Census vital to rural infrastructure, services, mayors say

Stock photo from Getty Images.

From a McDonald’s parking lot to a Ferris Wheel on West Union Street in Athens, mayors across the state are pushing every method of getting a full count in the 2020 Census. 

Southeast Ohio was particularly represented as the Mayors’ Partnership for Progress came together at the Statehouse with Ohio Development Services Agency Director Lydia Mihalik to emphasize the importance of the census for funding and demographics in the state.

“The census is the most important thing that we will be doing together across the state in the next few months,” Mikhalik said Tuesday.

census schedule
Screenshot courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Invitations will be going out within the week to all Ohioans explaining the methods residents can use to be counted in the census. Census counts will be conducted online, by phone, through the mail, or in person when census workers go door-to-door for those that haven’t responded to other methods.

According to data counts from the 2010 census, 69% of Ohioans self-responded to the census, meaning they were not counted by a door-to-door census worker. This self-response count was down from the 2000 census, when 72% of Ohio households self-responded.

The online feature is the newest way in which the count will be conducted, but it doesn’t work for areas where broadband has been a significant issue.

“Nobody wants a lack of computer to keep you from participating in the census,” said Mayor Jennifer Lyle of Muskingum County’s New Concord. “Access to the internet in our region is a particular challenge and that is why we are continuously pushing…on broadband expansion.”

An American Community Survey estimated that 21% of Muskingum County’s households had either no home internet subscription or dial up-only service. The number increases further south in the state. In neighboring Morgan County, an estimated 30% of households have no subscription or dial up.

Lyle said those without home internet access can utilize libraries, schools, and even McDonald’s parking lots for access to Wi-Fi services.

The rural communities of Ohio are as important as any other community in the state, and represent a large number of residents.

“The 15 counties that are represented in the Mayor’s Partnership for Progress includes 800,000 people, and every one of those individuals is important in terms of services that we potentially would lose if not everyone’s counted,” said Gary Goosman, mayor of the village of Amesville.

The Ohio Mayors Alliance said more than $1.5 trillion goes to states and local governments based on census data. That funding goes to nutrition programs like SNAP, Medicaid, educational services and infrastructure improvements. 

Community Development Block Grants that go to lower and middle-income communities have benefitted the members of the Mayors’ Partnership for Progress for as long as they’ve been in office.

Somerset’s mayor, Tom Johnson, said CDBGs have gone to neighborhood revitalization grants for streetscape and park improvements. Greg Fraunfelter, mayor of Logan, said federal funding for water meters and the town’s water treatment plant were paid for in part through federal funding. 

Census mailers will begin arriving between March 12 and March 20.

 

Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.