WORTHINGTON — In anticipation of the 2020 federal census, Worthington city officials have created a complete count committee that will work to encourage everyone in the community to respond.

The committee, led by Assistant City Administrator Jason Brisson, met for the first time Monday afternoon.

Present on behalf of the state was Andrew Virden, Director of Census Operations and Engagement. Virden explained the census process and why it's crucial that Worthington's population be accurately counted.

Virden noted that there's a reason why, when the federal census is outlined in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the language reads "persons" rather than "citizens." Each state's population — not its number of citizens — determines the number of federal representatives it's allotted.

Although the attempt to include a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census was blocked by the Supreme Court, Virden explained that some residents may still have concerns about responding to the census. The purpose of the complete count committee is to talk with community members and assuage any fears they may have about responding.

Virden explained that there is no need for undocumented immigrants to fear discovery as a result of responding to the census.

Although the form has 10 questions, only three are required in order for the form to be counted: the number of people living at the residence, as well as the age and sex of each person. Virden said these facts are not too personal.

He also noted that while those three questions are the only ones required, leaving questions blank increases the likelihood that a census worker will follow up with the residence. The easiest way to avoid anyone coming to the door is to fill out all 10 questions of the form.

Virden added that legally, the Census Bureau is prohibited from sharing census data with any other person or organization for any reason — including the IRS, the FBI, Citizenship and Immigration Services and welfare. Census information cannot be subpoenaed by a court or requested even by the President of the United States. Census information is confidential for 72 years. The penalty for violating this law is a $250,000 fine and/or five years in prison.

Virden said that the number of representatives is a major reason why a complete count is necessary. Although Minnesota had no change in the number of seats in Congress at the 2010 census, the state kept its 8 representatives by only 8,739 people. Out of a total of 5.3 million Minnesotans, 8,739 "is like a rounding error" in comparison, Virden noted.

In 2010, Minnesota had the second-highest census participation, at 80%. Nationwide, only 73% of Americans responded to the census. With Minnesota once again projected to lose a House seat, it's crucial that every resident of the state is counted, Virden said.

Another reason a complete count matters, he added, is that population affects government funding. More than $800 billion is allotted annually based on census records. Between federal, state, county and municipal funding, that's $2,796 per person per year or $28,000 per person per decade. In a community the size of Worthington, each person could make a significant difference in funding.

"We need data to make good policy decisions," Virden added. Census data helps determine school district boundaries, whether new schools are needed and where businesses can go.

In addition to fear, Virden listed a number of other obstacles to a complete count. One is that the census is not available in all languages. English and Spanish forms will be provided, but Worthington residents speak a host of languages. Community members who don't speak English or Spanish will require special outreach.

Another obstacle is rental housing. Renters tend to be transient, Virden explained, and are the most difficult demographic to count. Renters also represent a significant proportion of people of color, children under 5 and young adults between 18 and 24.

"If we get the count wrong in Worthington, we have to live with that for 10 years," Virden said.

The federal government has identified a "hard to count" district within Worthington city limits — the section east of Minnesota 60, cutting through downtown. It's essential that members of the complete count committee focus on outreach in that area, Virden said.

Virden said it is crucial to "make sure the complete count committee looks like the community it serves." That will be a priority for Brisson and the other committee members moving forward.

Following Virden's presentation, committee members worked in groups to begin planning outreach efforts.