Census workers previously delayed by the coronavirus pandemic will begin delivering the 2020 survey to harder-to-reach Maine households on Friday, hoping to boost what is now the third-lowest response rate in the nation.

They will drop off 2020 U.S. Census packets at the front doors of about 111,700 remote residences across Maine that have yet to receive the questionnaire because they don’t get mail at home. That’s about 20 percent of 557,000 households statewide.

The continuing COVID-19 shutdown of this mostly rural, heavily forested state has increased the usual challenge of getting an accurate population count, which must be done every 10 years to update Maine’s legislative voting districts and secure its fair share of federal funding.

Lack of web access also has contributed to Maine’s low response rate to the first census that may be answered online, said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

“Everything is making it more difficult right now,” Dunlap said Wednesday. “You don’t have to drive very far out of Bangor and you’re in the unorganized territories, and the further you are from urban areas, the tougher it is to connect to the internet.”

By Wednesday afternoon, 47.8 percent of Maine households had responded to the 2020 census, with 37 percent of them submitting answers online.

Only West Virginia (44.8 percent) and New Mexico (45.1 percent) had lower response rates, according to the U.S Census Bureau’s website. Other low-response states included Wyoming (47.9 percent), Vermont (48.5 percent), Montana (48.8 percent) and Hawaii (50.9 percent).

The state with the highest response rate to the 2020 census was Minnesota at 67.8 percent, with the current national average being 57.3 percent. Maine’s final self-response rate for the 2010 census was 57.4 percent, compared to a national average of 72 percent.

The Census Bureau began hand-delivering survey materials to 5.1 million U.S. households on March 15 but suspended operations on March 18 because of the pandemic, said Jeff Behler, the bureau’s regional director.

In resuming hand-deliveries, the effort will be “contactless” and follow the latest federal health and safety guidelines, Behler said.

Field workers have been trained to observe all social distancing protocols and will be required to wear government-issued personal protective gear.

They will be striving to delivery census packets across Maine, but especially in Franklin and Piscataquis counties, where about 40 percent of residents have yet to be contacted, and in Hancock and Washington counties, where about 31 percent of residents are awaiting census materials.

Census packets have already been delivered to between 90 percent and 98 percent of residents in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Kennebec and Penobscot counties.

The data-collection period for the 2020 census has already been extended because of the pandemic, moving the deadline to answer from July 31 to Oct. 31, Behler said.

The date when census takers are expected to begin knocking on doors to encourage and possibly assist in self-reporting has been moved from May 13 to Aug. 11.

By law, the bureau must report final state population counts to the president by Dec. 31, but agency officials have asked Congress to push that deadline back 120 days to April 30, 2021, Behler said.

If that change is approved, the scheduled releases of county and municipal population data on March 31 and wider detailed data in September 2021 also would be delayed 120 days.

Householders may respond to the 2020 census online or by paper questionnaire by using the identification number included in each survey packet.

Behler said the new online option has boosted participation as expected, especially because so many people are stuck at home during the pandemic. However, online respondents are more often choosing to answer the survey on laptops or personal computers rather than mobile devices.

However they fill out the form, state and federal officials are urging every householder to respond to the 2020 census as soon as possible.

Census population numbers are used to update state legislative districts and distribute more than $675 billion annually in federal funds to state, local and tribal governments.

That includes federal allocations for housing, education, health care, economic development, transportation and emergency response efforts.

Maine received more than $4 billion in federal funds as a result of the 2010 census.

Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state, acknowledged that many Mainers are in real trouble right now because of the pandemic.

Many have lost jobs or closed businesses and are facing other challenges, so completing the 2020 census isn’t the first thing on their minds.

But the pandemic has made responding to the census more critical than ever.

“Do your best to get it done however you can,” Dunlap said. “It’s so important, and given the situation we’re in now, it could be even more important and impact federal funding to Maine for years to come.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: