By Betsy Finklea
“Let’s Talk About The Census” was the topic of a Zoom meeting organized by Jacorie McCall, a local Wofford College student, to emphasize the importance of the census for the state and especially rural areas.
Lt. Governor Pamela Evette, chair of the Governor’s Complete Count commission, led the group of panelists who discussed the census. Evette said because of COVID-19, the census has gotten drowned out with everything going on, but it is extremely important to our state. She said the census takes care of things such as roads, infrastructure, and broadband, which is something that has been important to rural communities. Evette said with COVID-19, the $1.9 billion that South Carolina has received from the federal government is based on the 2010 census numbers. She said South Carolina was 20 percent undercounted in 2020. She said just think of how much money was left on the table.
Evette said there are so many things that needed to be expanded in the rural areas. One of these is broadband. Other things include education, DSS to help children and families, the elderly and the programs they need, etc. She said all of this money is driven by census information.
Completing the census is easier than ever and can my done online by visiting www.my2020census.gov. She said it was very easy and took less than five minutes to complete.
She said in many rural areas, people have post office boxes, and census forms are not mailed to post office boxes. She said they need to make sure the leaders are reaching out to the community to make sure they understand why the people need to be counted.
She said some people don’t want to fill out the census bccause they don’t know how the information will be used. By law, the census cannot release any data until 72 years after it is collected. South Carolina is ranked 38th in the nation in self-response. The state receives just shy of $3,000 for each person counted so if 100 people do not fill out their census, over 10 years the state loses out on $3 million that should be allotted back to the state from the federal government. This demonstrates the importance of getting everyone counted. The way we get our fair share is through the census.
Evette said they need to look for creative ways to reach others about the importance of filling out the census. She said they are also asking church communities to spread the word at churches and possibly set up an area where people can fill out the census. She said the questions are not too personal.
Rodney Berry, the current Economic Development Director for the office of Congressman Tom Rice, spoke about small businesses and why the census is important to rural areas.
He said small businesses depend on demographics to do well. Industry improves demographics. He said for industries to want to locate here we have to be competitive. One of these areas is schools, which gets some funding related to the census.
Berry said when the census workers get back out, their office planned to visit the top two or three industries in their district and get the business leaders to speak to their employees about filling out the census. He said they could allow employees to sign up at work. He said he felt like this would make a big dent. Currently, Tom Rice’s Congressional District is second to last in response. He said this is completely unacceptable.
Senate Kent Williams, District 30, said the census count is so important to rural areas because there is a higher need due to the fact that rural areas don’t have the same amount of industry as some of the more affluent areas. He said rural areas depend on the census count to fill the voids and gaps. He said it is important to educate the people on how important it is to be counted.
Williams said this information is very secure and very protected.
Williams said if you don’t participate in the census count, you are saying no to federal dollars for the next ten years. If the people in the area are 40 percent counted, then that is 60 percent of the citizens who haven’t been counted and those are funds that we don’t receive. Williams said there are federal dollars to expand broadband. He said this controls money for our infrastructure, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, technology, veterans programs, etc. He said it affects every aspect we can imagine.
Williams said they need boots on the ground to get the people counted and everybody working in a coordinated effort to get the word out.
Evette added that money for disasters, such as flooding, is based on census numbers.
Rep. Lucas Atkinson, District 57, said we got our U.S. Congressman’s seat that Tom Rice now holds from the 2010 census. He advised younger people to assist their parents and grandparents in getting their information entered for the census online.
Kelley Jacobs, Family Nurse Practitioner at Dillon Family Medicine, said she thinks they need to target the future. She talked about sharing the message on social media platforms. She said access to internet is not across the board in Dillon County. She said this played a role when education went online during COVID-19.
Jacobs said telehealth has helped them continue their productivity at their private practice. She said people assume everyone has internet access and that is not the case.
Sen. Williams said that people don’t realize the importance of broadband in these rural areas and how it gives people access to telehealth. He said some kids fell behind because they didn’t have access to broadband to do their schoolwork when schools closed due to COVID-19.
Celeste Campbell, Pruitt Health Dillon administrator, said many disparities are because of the lack of broadband. She said when groups gather, such as the Dillon County Health Initiative Farmers Market, that they need to promote doing the census.
Stanley Goodwin, Associate Pastor at Mechanicsville Baptist Church and Math/Science Coordinator at Darlington High School, said youth groups could help church members complete the census. He suggested reaching out to youth pastors in the area to take this on as a project. He said in Darlington the internet is also an issue. He said that several of their school buses have been driven into the community for a couple of hours to deliver food and to allow students to access the internet. He said that they could drive a bus to a community and let them know that it is going to be there a certain time to give them internet access.
Evette said this was a great suggestion. Williams agreed this was something they could look at in the future.
Jacobs said COVID-19 has brought out some disparities, but should motivate people in the community to complete the census to give them resources to meet some of the needs that are out there. She said they could use this to show why participation in the census is huge.
Evette said this call is what Team South Carolina is all about. She said she was asking people to reach out to 10 people and have them reach out to 10 people to help get this census done and make them understand the importance of the census and getting out there and doing your part.
Other participants in the call were Jarett Taylor, Latta Town Administrator and Christian Wright, president of the Wofford College Republicans.
The video of this meeting can be watched on The Dillon Herald’s page on Facebook®.
By Betsy Finklea