By Eloise Reed

The 2020 census is here. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely changed almost every aspect of our lives, you may not have the capacity to think about anything else. Or, you may be looking for something else to learn about to give your brain a break from the overload of “viral” information you are receiving right now. You may also be self-isolating or social distancing and, therefore, have a few more moments of downtime, which is the perfect time to take the U.S. 2020 census. In addition to being mandated by the Constitution, filling out the U.S. census helps you, your family and your community thrive. Governor Phil Scott has called the shrinking population in Vermont a “demographic crisis,” meaning that the tax dollars and funding for small businesses, rural hospitals and public schools are also shrinking alongside our disappearing population. This is exactly why taking the U.S. census is so important. Ensuring that you count, your neighbor counts and your children count helps our communities get the federal funding that we need.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted once every 10 years. Since 1790, the census data collected has helped to determine the number of seats each state holds in Congress and how billions of dollars in funding are distributed to states and local communities every year for services and infrastructure, including health care, jobs, schools, roads and bridges. According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, in fiscal year 2016, Vermont received $2,482,076,315 through 55 federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 census. That is roughly $2.5 billion that the state of Vermont receives annually to run crucial programs that impact us all. Based on our population count, that funding equals $2,830 per person per year that we are bringing to our state by filling out the census. That is roughly $30,000 per person for the next decade that we are either keeping in our state or letting slip away.


his 2020 census will determine how the states equitably divide $675 billion in federal funding. If Vermonters help ensure an accurate count by filling out their census form, we will likely see an increase in that $2.5 billion in annual funding determined by the 2010 census. That $2.5 billion annual funding is divided up among crucial services for our most vulnerable community members and is also used for fixing roads, public schools and, most importantly in this moment, to provide rural hospitals for the resources we need.
Some of the key programming and their budget is as follows: Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid) HHS, $1,072,721,000; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) USDA, $116,470,075; Medicare Suppl. Medical Insurance (Part B) HHS, $108,274,201; National School Lunch Program USDA, $15,358,000; School Breakfast Program USDA, $5,700,000; Community Services Block Grant HHS, $3,756,915; Low Income Home Energy Assistance HHS, $18,987,983; Social Services Block Grant HHS, $3,095,990; and Head Start preschool services, $17,172,180.

In the 2010 census an estimated 81 percent of Vermonters responded. This is a higher response rate than many states across the country, but it can always be increased. For example, if our elementary schools serve 100 first-graders who rely on the National School Lunch Program, but only 50 of those families fill out the census, that elementary school is still going to have to provide school lunch to all 100 students but with only half of the necessary budget. Imagine taking the 2020 census because you know you are leveling the playing field for providing the necessary federal funding for our state. We are already paying our tax dollars, so if we fill out the census we are keeping those dollars in our community instead of seeing them distributed somewhere else. If we start with an accurate count of the population, we won’t always be trying to catch up and serve our most vulnerable populations with an inaccurate budget.


Taking the census is easy, accessible and safe. There are three ways to take the census before a census enumerator knocks on your door. This is the first time in its history that the census is offered online. You can fill out the 2020 census at Most people will receive a code in mail, but they are not sending a code to people who have post office boxes. Since the census records by address, you do not need a code to fill it out. Go to the website and click on “If you do not have a Census ID, click here” and follow the prompts to the page where they ask for a home address. If you do not have an address, you can still take the census. It is available online in 59 languages. You can also take the census over the phone. There are no prompts and they are answered by a U.S. Census Bureau employee in the appropriate language. The last way is you will still get a paper form in the mail and you can fill out the paper form and mail it back. The postage and return envelope and address is included in the mailing.
The census is available now and is scheduled to continue until July 31, but there may be an extended deadline due to the coronavirus pandemic. There are only nine questions on the form and it is incredibly noninvasive. The census form asks you to provide your name, if you rent or own your home, your date of birth and if there are others who live with you in the home on April 1. It asks ethnicity, race and sex but does not require any form of signature or Social Security number. There is no citizenship question and you only need to be a resident of the United States to be counted. The data is not shared with any other agencies, and if any U.S. Census Bureau employee is found to have shared information they could face a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. In summary, the census helps our communities, our children, our public schools and our nation. Please take the census today.

Eloise Reid is the census 2020 campaign coordinator for the Vermont Community Action Agencies.