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Washington County, so far, has the highest response rate in Oregon to the 2020 count.

COURTESY IMAGE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU - U.S. Census Bureau officials announced Monday, April 14, field operations for the 2020 Census will be reactivated starting June 1 after being temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.After the U.S. Census Bureau suspended field operations for the 2020 count in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal officials announced last month those operations will restart this summer.

The count of all U.S. residents occurs once every 10 years. The census is key to determining fair representation in Congress, and it influences how the federal government allocates funding to states and communities.

The bureau will activate in-person activities, including in-person home visits by bureau officials, office work and processing beginning June 1.

Field operations "will incorporate the most current guidance to promote the health and safety of staff and the public," read a statement from the bureau. "This will include recommended personal protective equipment and social distancing practices.

"Responding now to the 2020 Census by mail, on the phone or online will minimize the need for a census taker to follow up and visit in person later this year."

The 2020 census is the nation's first in which officials are relying on online responses to reduce the amount of mail and number of visits.

People should have received their first postcards from the U.S. Census in mid-March. For those who haven't already responded, they will receive the first of several reminders and a paper questionnaire in their mailbox soon, bureau officials said.

At press time, Washington County had the highest response rate in Oregon. By midway through April, more than 60% of Washington County residents already had responded. The statewide response rate is 51.3%, so far.

Philip Bransford, communications officer for the county, said he hopes the efforts of the county, cities and many other local organizations to reduce barriers for people to respond to the census contributed to the high early response rate.

"We were trying to be as aware as we possibly could about language barriers, technology barriers with the (U.S.) Census Bureau focusing so much on online participation," Bransford said. "And along comes the pandemic and that's been another barrier, unfortunately."

In 2019, the county identified several census tracts, based on mail response rates for the census in 2010, that government agencies and community organizations would focus on to raise response rates.

Bransford said enlisting libraries to assist with providing people, including those without English proficiency, census information continues to be central to working toward a complete count.

The Washington County Complete Count Committee is made up of 35 people representing government agencies, elected officials and nonprofits working as a coalition to ensure a complete count.

Earlier this month, the county also produced a video encouraging people to respond to the 2020 Census despite COVID-19.

In the video, Kathryn Harrington, chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, said the census influences federal support for unemployment insurance, low-income energy assistance, transit and infrastructure.

"These resources are needed now more than ever to address the impacts of COVID-19 and to support the vitality of our community as we one day recover from this pandemic," Harrington said.

The federal government currently distributes nearly $19.5 billion to Oregon each year based on census numbers.

Additionally, projections show population growth puts Oregon on track to receive a sixth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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