The deadline set for completion of the 2020 U.S. Census is drawing closer, and Erath County Judge Alfonso Campos said much is at stake in accounting for the 14,000 or so households in the county.


"With so little time remaining, and with the challenges that we have faced, it is critical that we have a strong finish," Campos stated. "Counties and communities risk the loss or reduction of funding and resources that can improve quality of life. Undercounting means we might get the short end of the stick for the next decade.


"We need to account for everyone, including the vulnerable populations such as young children, residents of low-income or retirement populations, immigrants, and others that may not be recognized in the mainstream of our communities. Some may not wish to be counted, but we encourage everyone to step forward. Census 2020 results help to determine congressional representation and allocation of federal funding dollars to states and localities."


The U.S. Census website indicated, as of Sept. 7, the self-response rate for Erath County was 49.6 percent. The deadline for collection of the census data is set for Sept. 30, 2020.


Bianca Gamez, a U.S. Census Bureau senior media specialist based in Dallas, described the process as getting a "snapshot of the population," adding, "We want to encourage everyone to respond now."


Gamez also noted that the data can translate into increased money and power for the county, as well as the school district through federal funding.


"It is used every day to solve problems around town — housing, emergencies, schools, roads, hospitals," Gamez said.


On top of that, it’s quicker and easier than you may realize.


"It’s simple, it’s safe, it’s easy, and it’s secure and confidential," Gamez said. "It helps your area get its fair share of funding, money and power."


In most cases it should only take about 10 minutes to complete, Gamez said.


To fill in the data gaps of households that have not responded, census field workers were dispatched starting in August.


In addition to returning the census form that you received in the mail, you can also choose to fill out the information online (https://2020census.gov/en.html), or call 844-330-2020 (for Spanish speakers call 844-468-2020) and complete it over the phone.


Campos mentioned that COVID-19 caused some problems with the original Census plan.


"Our plans to utilize the schools and churches were sidetracked because they have been mostly empty since the onset of COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, opportunities for face to face events and functions were lost. That is why it’s important to be effective in our final push so that we can finish strong."


The judge also added, "One obstacle faced by the census field workers, especially in rural areas, is a distrust for government regarding personal information. Census workers will have an official identification (with photo) lanyard for easy recognition. If uncertain, it’s OK to ask the person for inspection of their ID. Information gathering is minimal. The challenge and the goal is to count all the persons living at an Erath County address on April 1, 2020."


The census website states, "Census results shape the future of communities, as census data informs how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed for health clinics, school lunch programs, disaster recovery initiatives, and other critical programs and services for the next 10 years."