iluna@valleytowncrier.com

RIO GRANDE VALLEY/PHARR - The Valley’s largest non-profit organization, RGV Food Bank hosted a mini-information summit to encourage participation in this year’s U.S. 2020 Census.

RGV Food Bank invited representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau and Hidalgo County to share how residents living in the Rio Grande Valley can participate in the Census and why the designated “hard-to-count” areas such as Hidalgo County, needs to be counted for.

“What is the number one reason why people don’t want to participate in our area?” asked Marta Ortiz, a partnership specialist of the U.S. 2020 Census Bureau to Friday morning’s audience.

“Because they’re scared!” a few folks shouted.

Participating in the U.S. 2020 Census does not share participant’s personal information - something non-U.S. citizens are scared of who were in attendance at Friday’s food bank conference.

All information is protected and confidential by Law under U.S. Code Title 13. No personal information is shared with federal agencies such as a person’s citizenship status, current residence, number of kids in your household, employment, etc…

If a U.S. 2020 Census Bureau employee were to disseminate that information they will face up to five years in federal prison and pay a fine of $250,000.

Survey responses cannot be shared in court nor can it be requested as public information.

The only information shared from the U.S. Census is statistics of that region on the Census’ official website https://www.census.gov/.

Ortiz shared past Census responses pointing out which areas had the lowest participation on the map.

Edinburg, McAllen, Harlingen and surrounding cities were just a few of the Valley’s many areas to show dark blue.

“The lighter colors represent a high response rate and the blue hue indicate a low response rate,” Ortiz said showing the map. “This is the Valley, we’re all blue and sad,” she said highlighting the region.

Executive Assistant of the Census Division from Hidalgo County Judge, Richard F. Cortez’s office was Andrea Gonzalez who shared the historically “hard-to-count” region and its effects it could have.

“The Census is important because the data collected during the upcoming 2020 Census will define our region for at least a decade and impacts federal funding, U.S. representatives seats, state and legislature districts, school districts, voting precincts and calculation of education, unemployment rates and business location decisions - it affects our economy,” she said.

Chief executive officer of RGV Food Bank, Stuart Haniff shared why the food bank is important to “64,000 people in need every week.”

“The purpose of today’s conference is to let people know that we are a census agency as a food bank and to work with our partner agencies to get them involved….we need to make sure we are counted here in the Rio Grande Valley because there are millions of dollars for everything from fire stations to federal pell grants that we don’t want to leave on the table and as a community with our agencies, we are fighting hunger and feeding hope.”

Haniff explained the importance of having the Valley’s participation in this year’s Census because “[The RGV] wants to be counted and from the Census, the legislatures decide where they’re going to distribute funding, and unless they know where the needs are and where the opportunities are, we can’t get our fair share of dollars.”

The Census is a means of improvement to your community as far as health care, education, businesses, employment, infrastructure and more that happens every 10 years.

“This is our chance to speak up for ourselves and when we talk about counting, it’s more than them counting us; it is to make sure that our say in what we need counts,” Haniff concluded.

DATES TO REMEMBER:

March 12 - March 20: Self Response Applications Begin (available in English and Spanish)

-email

-mail

-phone

April 1 - Official Census Day:

-is observed nationwide

April (all of April):

-census takers visit colleges, senior centers and large community centers

May (all of May):

-census takers visit homes who haven’t responded in order to be counted for

July (all of July):

-all Census counts will conclude at the end of the month

December (all of December):

-the Census Bureau delivers all data to congress required by law

March 2021:

-the Census Bureau will begin redistricting counts to states

For more information on how to respond visit: https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html