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Push for Online 2020 Census Poses Challenges for Rural Maine

A map of which communities will be asked to answer the census online (in purple), and those that can fill it out online or via paper mail (in green). (U.S. Census Bureau)
A map of which communities will be asked to answer the census online (in purple), and those that can fill it out online or via paper mail (in green). (U.S. Census Bureau)
November 22, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine – The 2020 Census Committee in Maine met for the first time on Thursday to strategize how to reach Mainers in a new, online format – and in a state that's quite rural.

While most folks in 'down-east' Maine will need to fill out the census forms online, much of the state will have the option to answer online or on paper with a mail-in form.

Maine State Economist Amanda Rector says the census totals help determine a huge amount of federal funding.

"The George Washington Institute did a study,” says Rector. “And their estimate is that for Maine, a little over $4 billion in fiscal year '16 was distributed to the state on the basis of census data.”

To put that in perspective, it's about half the money the state spent in fiscal year 2016. Rector adds she cannot overestimate the importance of the census.

For the first time, most U.S. residents will answer census questions online – which is, in part, to cut the Census Bureau's operational costs. But Maine ranks among the slowest states for internet speed, and much of it is rural.

Rector explains the state is partnering with more than 100 communities and organizations to encourage people to be counted in the census.

"One of the things that we'll be looking to do is try to come up with strategies that fit within the work that state agencies are already doing,” says Rector.

So, if a nonprofit has a career center, for example, they could encourage folks to fill out the census form at the same time as a job application. State agencies and their partner organizations also are planning outreach to groups that historically have been hard to count.

The Census Bureau also is hoping more than 14,000 Mainers apply for jobs with the 2020 Census.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME