A news story kind of slipped through the cracks last week, and it could impact every resident of Madison County for a decade.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced last week that it will stop counting efforts on Sept. 30, a month sooner than was previously announced.

Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said the change is part of an effort to “accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts. The Census Bureau’s new plan reflects our continued commitment to conduct a complete count, provide accurate apportionment data, and protect the health and safety of the public and our workforce.”

Brad Cameron, communications chairman for Arkansas Counts, said less than 50 days remain to get as many responses as possible for the 2020 Census.

As of last week, just 57.7 percent of Arkansans had responded to the Census. Nationally, 63 percent had responded.

The numbers in Madison County are even lower. Just 43.9 percent had responded to the Census, with only 16.2 percent doing so on the Internet. Responding literally takes just a couple of minutes online. As of last week, 43.2 percent of the people in Huntsville had responded. The numbers dropped to 30.4 percent in St. Paul and 27.8 percent in Hindsville.

Why is all this so important?

“The results are used to determine everything from the number of elected representatives to a community’s grant application for broadband access. More than 130 federal programs rely on data from the U.S. Census when determining spending at state and local levels. There are 55 federally funded programs at work in Arkansas. Many of these programs are integral to rural development. A 1 percent undercount of Arkansas in 2020 may result in nearly $1 billion in lost funds over a 10-year period,” according to Arkansas Counts.

The U.S. Census Bureau says, “The results of the 2020 Census will help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding flow into communities every year for the next decade. That funding shapes many different aspects of every community, no matter the size, no matter the location.”

Simply put, areas that are undercounted will lose money and political clout.

Cameron noted that a month lost in counting during the Covid-19 Pandemic could be devastating. A news release said it “cuts short our efforts to ensure children under five, people of color, rural residents, low-income people, and people experiencing homelessness count. This will skew Congressional representation, redistricting, and critical funding for every state in the country, including Arkansas.”

In-home visits to get additional counting, telephone calls, online responses all will be cut short by a month. All results from this year’s Census must be turned into President Donald Trump by Dec. 31.

A story on National Public Radio last week noted that “These last-minute changes to the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S. threaten the accuracy of population numbers used to determine the distribution of political representation and federal funding for the next decade.”

NPR first reported on the bureau’s efforts to cut short this year’s count.

“Before the pandemic hit, counting for the 2020 census was originally supposed to be finished by the end of July. But in April, with public support from President Trump, the bureau announced that it needed to extend its timeline, including pushing back the end of counting to Oct. 31.” Dillingham told the House Oversight and Reform Committee last week that “the Census Bureau and others really want us to proceed as rapidly as possible.”

Cameron said the Census “determines the funding that is made available to respond to crises like the Covid-19 Pandemic.” 

Information available at www.arcounts.org includes resources for individuals, businesses, students, teachers, faith leaders and others. You can complete the census at www.my2020census.gov or by calling 1-844-330-2020. “Then let 20 friends know that they should respond,” Cameron said.