Arkansas officials are hoping more people in the state will choose to use mail, phone, or internet options to be counted in the census.
Shelby Johnson, the director of the state's Geographic Information Office and co-chair of Arkansas's Complete Count Committee, said, prior to COVID-19, census takers planned to use face-to-face meetings to increase participation in the event that happens once a decade.
"A lot of that outreach activity was planned for community gatherings. For example, festivals, parades, other sorts of events like that, where we could provide additional information to Arkansans, and of course, all of those activities are on hold now," Johnson said.
The U.S. Census Bureau began collecting responses for 2020 census in March. In 2010, the last time the census was taken, responding through the Census Bureau website wasn't an option for Arkansans. At that time, the state's rate of people self-responding without having to be visited by an in-person census taker was 62.3%.
Johnson is worried because Arkansas's current response rate of 44.7% is lagging behind the national average and social distancing practices may make it more difficult for in-person census takers.
"It does concern me,” Johnson said, "because at this point in time, and for the next several weeks I'm concerned that Arkansans may be reluctant to answer their door. That's because of the COVID-19 situation."
Hundreds of billions of dollars of federal money for public schools, Medicaid, and school lunch programs, as well as legislative representation, and local 911 operational budgets are among the things impacted by the census numbers.
In-person visits are required when people do not self-report using one of the other methods. The Census Bureau has expanded their call center capacity to make it easier for people to respond by phone and moved the start date for in-person census takers to begin canvassing communities to late May in response to social distancing guidelines. The counting, which began in March, will continue throughout the summer.