LAVEEN – Adequate federal funding for broadband Internet, water systems, law enforcement and other areas vital to rural Arizona depends on residents participating fully in the upcoming U.S. census, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Dec. 1.
“There are services that kind of develop naturally in the more populated areas of the state and many federal programs are focused on trying to accomplish those same types of things out in the rural areas,” he said.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s Phoenix office invited Bennett and other public officials to a “Spirit of Community Celebration” at which they emphasized the importance participating in the 2010 census.
Every 10 years since 1790 the U.S. government has taken a census of the nation’s population using the count to allocate congressional seats, electoral votes and government funding among states. Based on census data, the government allocates over $400 billion among the states every year.
Bennett said that participation is critical to ensure that the proper amount of tax dollars are returned to the state every year and to have the needed representation in Congress.
“To me, what makes Arizona is not the Grand Canyon or the mountains or the streams, it’s the people,” he said. “The census is about people and when governments try to serve people, they usually have to do it through programs.”
Bennett said the state spends billions in federal funds every year on services such as education, law enforcement, health and transportation.
“The federal government doesn’t just stack the money out on little boxes that we can pick up every day if we need them,” he said. “It ends up in the salary of a teacher’s aide who is helping a student, in the salary of an emergency room nurse. It all usually ends up in the salaries of people who are helping people.”
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said that every person in the city counted in the census brings back $400 in the form of funding for programs and services, an amount that Bennett said could be inflated in rural areas.
“There’s a lot of programs that would probably add up to or exceed that number for every rural resident that is counted or not counted,” Bennett said. “So, it’s just as important, if not more, that the census occurs correctly throughout the whole state.”
Cathy Lacy, a U.S. Census Bureau regional director, said that the bureau has encountered a lack of rural participation in the past.
“In the rural areas, there seems to be individuals who think that by being in such a small group they will not feel the impact of the census or they just don’t want to have anything to do with the government,” she said.
Lacy said that the bureau has been focusing more staff on hard-to-count areas in cities because 80 percent of the population lives in or near a city.