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Census count determines U.S. House seats, federal money

Ryan Dolan, Census 2010 campaign coordinator for the State Demographic Center, glances at his laptop while explaining Tuesday night at Bemidji City Hall how important it will be to count every person on April 1. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Missing one person in each Minnesota township in next year's Census count could mean one fewer U.S. House member.

"We predict we're 1,787 people away from losing the last seat," Ryan Dolan, Census 2010 campaign coordinator for the State Demographic Center, said Tuesday night.

Federal dollars are also tied to the Census, meaning fewer dollars to Minnesota if everyone is not counted next April 1.

"We have about 1,700 townships in the state, so if we miss one person in every township, we lose a congressional seat," he said. "That's just one person in every small town in our state."

Minnesota currently has eight congressional districts in a U.S. House that has 435 members. Based on current projections, Dolan said Minnesota ranks 437th with that extra seat.

He said the 7th Congressional District, now held by Rep. Collin Peterson, a DFLer from Detroit Pl9Lakes, would see the most pressure as the 7th stretches from the Canadian border to 40 miles of the Iowa border. The 8th District, held by Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat from Chisholm, is mostly compact and could extend across northern Minnesota with the loss of a seat.

"This is a significant loss of power to the state of Minnesota," he told about a half dozen local government officials at a Census 2010 town hall meeting at Bemidji City Hall. "We already know what if feels like to be one senator short, if we're one House member short, that's a whole quagmire we'll be dealing with in redrawing the (apportionment) map."

The population shift is occurring to the South and Southwest, he said, with the population loss in the Midwest and Northeast. Iowa is the only contiguous state to Minnesota in the same position of losing population -- or not gaining as quickly as the other regions.

"The Census is so critical to the state of Minnesota," Dolan said. "About $300 billion is tied to the Census numbers every single year in federal money to the states. With the new administration, it's nearly $400 billion."

It means that for every person missed in Minnesota's Census county, $1,000 to $1,200 per person in lost federal aid, he said.

"If we miss one person in the Census, we lose $10,000 to $12,000 over a 10-year period," he said, with the Census done every 10 years. That sum pales unallotments or the loss of Local Government Aid, he said.

"We can't afford to lose anything as a result of the Census over the next 10 years," Dolan said. "If we miss 100 people in the Census, which I'm sure we will, that could mean over a 10-year period $1 million to $1.2 million in lost revenue to the state from the federal government."

It's especially important to keep that federal money, Dolan said, since Minnesota typically sends more tax dollars to Washington, D.C., that it sends back to Minnesota.

"Whatever we do in the Census affects us for the next 10 years," he said. "We really want your help over the next year or so to make sure that the Census in 2010 is a success."

Cynthia Madigan, U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist, said she is working on establishing a local Census Bureau office in Bemidji, one of eight regional offices in Minnesota and the one farthest west. District offices are in Duluth and the Twin Cities.

The Bemidji office is slated to open in October, she said, and will provide 50 office-type jobs. The office manager and management staff are the process of being hired now, she said.

Dolan said about 1,000 people will be hired in each congressional district, most working part time from four weeks to 18 months and at wages of $12 to $16 an hour.

He urged local officials to form a complete count committee, usually appointed volunteers by the mayor, to coordinate local public awareness of the 2010 Census.

It should represent all sectors of the community, he said, "and it works as a liaison with the U.S. Census Bureau. ... They really work hard to get the word out to the community. The complete count committee is a megaphone to make sure everybody is informed so they understand exactly what to do to make your city and your residents much more prepared to answer the Census."

As to the Census itself, Dolan said every household will receive a 10-question form that should take less than 10 minutes to complete. The 2000 Census also used a considerably longer form that went to one in six people, but Dolan said only the short form will be used next year.

Instead, the Census Bureau is doing the longer form annually to about 1 percent of the population. That means some households in 2010 will get both forms, and by federal law they must fill out both forms.

Forms will be mailed in February to existing addresses -- which Census Bureau staff are now verifying -- and are to be mailed back by April 1.

Stressing it's important that everyone be counted, Dolan said it is hoped a 2000 mistake isn't repeated. College dorms in Moorhead weren't canvassed until June -- after school dismissed for the summer and most students had left.

College students are counted where they are living April 1, not the city where they're from, Dolan said.

Other problems a reason for an accurate count include getting handle on the state's immigration population, especially undocumented foreigners and refugees, Africans and African-Americans, snow birds who should list Minnesota as their residence of record, college students and the uncertainty surrounding foreclosures.

On the Web:

Information about U.S. Census jobs:

or 1-866-861-2010

Information about the Census in Minnesota: