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A new committee is forming in Columbia County to engage in outreach to ensure as complete a census count as possible in 2020. As part of a national project, this is the first time it has been recommended communities form a Complete County Census Committee to improve on the information gathering process.

A census count happens once every ten years, intended to count every resident in the United States. The decennial census was first taken in 1790, as mandated by the Constitution, according to census.gov. The census counts our population and households to provide a basis for reapportioning congressional seats, redistricting, and distributing more than $675 billion in federal funds annually to support states, counties and communities’ vital programs.

“We need high participation for all kinds of reasons,” Claire Catt said, who was tapped by Commissioner Margaret Magruder to spearhead the committee. She said the more complete the count, the more likely it is that the county will see federal funding for things like housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy.

This year, the government will send out four mailings to households, once a week, beginning in mid-March. Those mailers will encourage households to complete their census count online, and if it is not completed after the fourth mailer, a paper version of the census form will be sent. After that, if not completed, a tabulator will come to the household and knock on the door. There will also be a toll-free number set up in multiple languages for households that may not have internet access. However, letters will not be sent to those with PO Boxes, which may prove problematic for rural communities like Rainier, Clatskanie and Columbia City.

Thus, the forming of the committee. Catt, who also serves as Director of Columbia County United Way, said “quite a variety of individuals” have been contacted to join. Catt said those individuals include local elected officials and employees, the PUDs, local media, local school districts, local post masters, representatives from the faith community, and a variety of non-profits.

“This matters so much to the non-profits that we serve,” Catt said. “With $675 billion awarded in federal funds annually, from businesses to local area hospitals and other health services, having complete counts is right in line with the United Way mission and it’s good for everyone.”

Catt foresees obstacles around folks who don’t trust the internet, or those who are more rural who may not have internet access at all.

Catt is urging the community to get involved. Those interested in volunteering are asked to attend a meeting at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at Community Action Team, located at 125 N. 17th Street in St. Helens. Catt said anyone can participate, and the committee will meet three times to work on engaging as many people to work on outreach as possible.

“If you can’t volunteer, remind yourself and your neighbors that census mailers will start rolling out in mid-March,” Catt said.

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