While restaurants, schools and many other services have been temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one aspect of life in Orange County that is still going strong is the 2020 Census. Orange County has the highest census response rate out of 100 North Carolina counties at 52.7 percent, compared to the statewide rate of 42.9 percent as of Tuesday night.
In an effort to encourage citizens to participate in the census, Orange County created a Complete Count Committee made up of local government officials and community leaders tasked with spreading the word about the importance of filling out the census.
Renee Price, the committee's chairperson, said the county was intentional with the diversity of people it appointed to the committee.
“The committee is made up of people from all aspects of life in Orange County — from government, to nonprofits that serve clients, to departments that serve clients, to just community organizations," she said. "We just tried to hit everyone, including people that speak different languages."
Price also said the committee has undertaken a marketing campaign to promote the census, which has included promotions on radio and in the Orange County newsletter, a video made by students from Cedar Ridge High School and a public service announcement that the Department of Health translated into several different languages.
Penny Rich, chairperson of the Board of Orange County Commissioners, said the county has had to adapt some of its promotion of the census because of the coronavirus pandemic, including canceling community ice cream parties and information sessions promoting the census.
“Even though we didn’t have the parties, we have had some virtual stuff going on, and people have logged in, and we’ve had this little contest between the regional countries to see who could be in first place,” Rich said. “It’s always fun to have that little competition going on. And the UNC-Duke competition is always real, so we have a competition between Orange County and Durham County."
Todd McGee, director of community relations for Orange County and a member of the Complete Count Committee, said it is necessary for people to fill out the census in order for the county to get funding.
“The main reason it's important for people to fill out the census is because it helps bring state and federal dollars to the county for programs in school nutrition, roads and transportation, medicare and those kinds of things,” he said.
Price said the census response rate also affects allotment of congressional seats, since North Carolina is on the cusp of acquiring an additional congressional seat based on the results of the census.
“We have to know how many people we have and where they are, because even if we were given another seat because of the numbers, we have to know how to draw the electoral lines," she said. "Even school districts, county and city precincts. All that is dependent on the census data.”
Rich added that in order for the county to receive adequate funding and to accurately know where to place that funding, it is important for everyone to fill out the census, not just residents who are documented.
“We actually think that there are more than 144 to 145,000 people living in Orange County. They’re just not being counted because they’re afraid, because they’re undocumented," she said. "But if we can count them we can get the funding to support them."
McGee said he thinks the high response rate is representative of the nature of Orange County as a whole.
“I think we have a very engaged community that is aware of the importance of the census and we have traditionally been a high responding county," he said. "And I think that was shown this year.”
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