Becker County still only about halfway there on census count

Accurate census counts are crucial, as census data determines how much federal funding state and local governments receive to pay for vital programs and services.

The 2020 census is well underway. Households have until Oct. 31 to submit their responses online, over the phone or by mail — a deadline that was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (File Photo)

Becker County households are crawling along on their 2020 census responses.

Submissions are being made at a gradual pace that, if not picked up by the end of the data collection process, could mean the county gets less federal funding than it should to pay for vital programs and services.

“A lot of people don’t really realize that there are billions of dollars nationwide that are distributed on a per capita basis, so the more people that sign into the census, the greater number of dollars that will draw from the federal government,” said Joe Merseth, a Detroit Lakes resident and member of Becker County’s Complete Count Committee for the 2020 Census. The committee has been working since last summer to spread the word about the census and encourage everybody to take part.

The ongoing census count began several weeks ago, and as of Tuesday, May 19, about 49% of the known households in Becker County had responded, per statistics on the official census website, . That’s below Minnesota’s statewide average response rate of 70%, as well as the national average of 60%.

It’s not at the very bottom of Minnesota's pack, however, as some other rural counties in the state, such as Mahnomen County, which is at 21%, represent the lowest end of the average. Counties around the Twin Cities metro area represent the higher end, with some reaching into the 75-85% range.


Detroit Lakes, the county seat of Becker County, has a higher percentage than the county as a whole, with 62% of households responding as of May 19.

Invitations to complete the census were mailed to households by the Census Bureau in mid-March. Everyone living in the United States and its territories is required by law to complete the census, which can be done online, over the phone or by mail. Those who do not self-respond are eventually visited in person by a census taker.

There’s still plenty of time to avoid a home visit. People have until Oct. 31 to submit their own responses. The original deadline of July 31 got pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Census counts are crucial to state and local economies, as they determine how much federal funding is filtered down to state and local governments and programs. Figures from the 2020 census will determine how an estimated $800 billion — or more — is spent, over $15 billion of that in Minnesota.

Cities, townships, school districts — any entity that receives funding based on its population, relies on the census, Merseth said: “It could even impact your taxes. There’s a lot of money out there, and that’s why we encourage a high participation rate.”

The site states that census data informs federal funding for more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, Section 8 housing, block grants, community development projects, wildlife restoration projects, child abuse prevention programs and more. The population data is used by lawmakers and business owners to make critical decisions for the next decade, such as where new schools might be needed, or new hospitals, new roads, new restaurants, new stores, bigger fire departments, more housing and other services.

Census results are also used to adjust or redraw electoral districts, based on where populations have increased or decreased. Responses determine how many seats each state gets in Congress, and state and local officials use the counts to draw boundaries for congressional, state legislative and school districts.

The Constitution mandates that the country count its population once every 10 years, and the Census Bureau provides states with population counts for that purpose. Census response forms consist of several basic questions, and the bureau is bound by law to keep responses confidential.


“People don’t always understand that,” Merseth said. “They think it (the Census Bureau) is using their private information. It doesn’t ask for any personal information, other than gender and so forth. They don’t ask for a social security number or anything like that. It’s very easy to fill out … and can be filled out online in a matter of three to four minutes.”

After census takers have completed their home visits this fall, the census data will be compiled and sorted. In December, apportionment counts will be delivered to the President and Congress, as required by law.

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