SLAYTON — In anticipation of the 2020 federal census, representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau are visiting local government agencies and urging preparation to ensure a strong community response.

Jim Accurso, Minnesota Partnership Specialist, presented to the Murray County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning and encouraged them to form a Complete Count Committee.

Accurso explained that the 2020 census includes a number of unprecedented challenges, such as a mobile population, fewer landline phones, a cultural distrust in government, declining responses to surveys in general, a diverse population and many different types of living arrangements.

To adapt to these challenges, the Census Bureau has redesigned the enumeration process. The new system is broken into five steps:

1. Establish where to count. Census workers have already begun canvassing neighborhoods to account for all addresses where people live. New in 2020, not all households will receive the paper version of the census. Most Americans are encouraged to respond to the census online or by phone, and will not be sent the paper form unless they fail to respond any other way. Accurso said the paper form is only offered in English and Spanish, the online version comes in 12 languages and language support by phone expands to 59 languages.

2. Motivate people to respond. Before the census is live, communities must be prepared to respond to the questions. This means trusted voices have to reach out within their spheres of influence and encourage their peers to respond. It also means spreading awareness that census information is protected by federal law and cannot be shared with any other government agency. Accurso recommended that a Complete Count Committee include representatives from a variety of local organizations, including churches, schools, businesses and farmers markets.

3. Count the population. The Census Bureau works to ensure not only the counting of households, but also assisted living facilities, college dorms, penitentiaries, military bases and homeless groups.

4. Non-response follow-up. If a household does not respond to the census, a census worker will make an in-person visit to acquire the needed information. If an individual or household does not want someone from the Census Bureau to knock on their door, the best way to avoid that is to respond to the census. Complete Count Committees can reduce the need for these visits by doing outreach prior to the enumeration period.

5. Tabulate data and release results. Accurso stressed that the Census Bureau takes cybersecurity very seriously and has a number of measures in place to protect Americans' data. He added that in addition to population count, the census also compiles demographic information. One out of every 38 households will receive the American Community Survey (which replaces the previous long-form census) in order to gather this data.

Accurso said that in Murray County, census response trended downward by 6% from 2000 to 2010. He encouraged the county board to engage with hard-to-count groups in order to get as high a response as possible.

County commissioners expressed concern about snowbirds and immigrant populations as being difficult to count, and Accurso responded with confidence.

"It is a heavy lift — we understand that," he said. "But we believe we're up to the task."