An initiative is in place to encourage more Sarpy County participation in the 2020 U.S. Census.

With new protocols taking place to ensure more participation, the Sarpy County Board of Commissioners put together the Sarpy Census Complete Count Committee in conjunction with the federal government.

Michelle Andahl, executive chair of the Count Committee, said the committee is responsible for outreach in the county.

"Sarpy County is unique because we have more than one city within our county boundaries participating in the Complete Count Committee,” she said.

The committee has collaborated with several community partners to help spread the word and encourage more participation in the 2020 census. Partners are the Sarpy County Board; Cities of Bellevue, Gretna, La Vista, Papillion and Springfield; Bellevue University; Bellevue, Gretna, Papillion-La Vista, Millard and Springfield public schools; Offutt Air Force Base, Midlands Community Foundation; Lift Up Sarpy; Werner Enterprises; and local chambers of commerce.

As “communication partners,” Andahl said the community partners will take messaging from federal officials and remind people that April 1 is the census date.

In a county with more than 180,000 residents, Andahl said it’s important to have an early start to let more people know when and how to participate in the census.

“In working with all these people, we want to make sure we have a great plan in place,” Andahl said.

In the 2010 census, there were around 159,000 Sarpy County participants. Nebraska received $2.54 billion in federal funding, which equates to more than $1,300 in federal funds distributed to each Nebraska resident each year.

These funds go toward health and human services, highway planning and construction, education and more.

“You can imagine, if even 10,000 people are missed, that’s a huge amount of money we miss out on,” Andahl said.

One big change for the 2020 census will be technology usage, Andahl said.

“The ability to use technology is so much different than it was 10 years ago,” she said. “We’ll be able to utilize social media, Facebook, Twitter.”

Residents can choose to fill out their census online, on their phone, by mail or in-person.

“Through the secure internet response and the phone and electronics, [the Federal Census Bureau] will get a majority of the responses, because it’s quick and it’s easy and it’s convenient,” she said. “They’re hoping the in-person will be less needed than they were in the past.”

When it comes to Bellevue’s military population, Andahl said they will need to know how to fill out their census for where they are stationed.

With areas that have been harder to reach, Andahl said the federal side will work with the Geographic Information System department to pinpoint key outreach locations.

“The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office will also be helping to truly reach out to homeless people,” she said. “They’ll go out with census collectors and escort the people to visit and have people fill out their forms.”

Andahl said the overall goal of this initiative is to get an “accurate, complete count,” and to include everyone in the county.

“We don’t want to miss a single person,” she said. “The citizenship question will not be on the census, so we want to make sure all people residing within Sarpy County, citizen or not, that they know they’re important and they matter because they have children in our schools, they use the roads as much as we do.”

April 1 is the day the Census Bureau hopes to have all responses. Residents can start sending them in March 23, and if they haven’t responded by April 1 census canvassers will begin searching to encourage participation. For more information, visit censusbureau.gov.

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