Local officials help U.S. Census Bureau prepare for 2020

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- In March 2020, households across Wisconsin will get invitations to respond to the 2020 Census. The Census happens every 10 years, and it is a count of the entire United States Population.

The information collected can make a real impact in Wisconsin. Census data affects how new congressional districts and local alder districts are drawn.

That information also controls how $675 billion of federal funding gets distributed to states and communities.

"For our community to get its fair share of funding for things like schools, transit, healthcare, nutrition, all those different kinds of things, that depends on that census information, and so we have real impacts in our community if there's an under count within the city of Madison," said Ben Zellers, a planner with Madison's Department of Planning.

The Census Bureau will not start counting until 2020, but preparation started months before. Hundreds of staffers go out to neighborhoods across the country, making sure the Census Bureau has a complete and updated address list for every household.

"That operation is really critical, it provides us with a very significant foundation to begin the enumeration process," said Ellisa Johnson, Assistant Regional Census Manager for the Chicago Regional Census Bureau.

Updating the master address list is a massive job, so local governments, including the city of Madison and Dane County, help out.

"Without those partnerships in the geography area, we know that we can't be successful," Johnson said.

One way local officials can help is the New Construction program. The program will make sure housing expected to be finished by early 2020 gets added to the census address list.

"Municipalities, whether it's a county or a city or sometimes even state governments, can log on to the Census Bureau service and update addresses directly with the Census Bureau," Zellers said.

Zellers and the rest of Madison's Department of Planning can start updating the list in September 2019.

Zellers said between new single-family homes and multi-family housing projects, the city expects to add between 2,500 and 4,000 new addresses to the list.

"We want to make sure that all those people in single family homes, multi-family housing are able to be counted in the census," Zellers said.

For the Census Bureau, building partnerships with officials like Zellers ahead of time means 2020 will run much smoother.

"With the challenges that we know that we’re up against in terms of creating a trust in the community, to encourage people to respond to the census, we know that we have to have the buy-in from the local elected officials, we know that we have to have trusted voices to help us spread the word about the importance of the census," Johnson said.

The Census Bureau will continue working with local officials and community groups through 2020, making sure people know to respond to the census.

Information on responding will be sent to most households in mid-March 2020, and for the first time, people can fill out the census online.