Hermiston’s population will be counted along with the rest of the country’s during the 2020 U.S. Census.

If you have received an invitation from the U.S. Census Bureau to fill out the 2020 Census and have not yet done so, stop what you’re doing and go do that now.

It may seem like a small thing, but that five minutes of your time is a huge service to your community.

Census counts are used to determined your representation in government, including how many seats your state gets in Congress. Oregon is one of seven states projected to possibly snag an additional seat in the House of Representatives, taking one away from a slower-growing state, such as California or New York. A low turnout of census responses in Oregon could hurt those chances.

Census data will also be used to divide up representation in the Oregon Legislature. Right now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 69.7% of Multnomah County households have filled out the census, and 72.1% in Clackamas.

Out here, only 52.2% of Umatilla County households and 42.9% of Morrow County households have responded.

That’s good news for Portland residents who are hoping to see the Legislature remain controlled by a supermajority of Democrats from mostly metro areas. It’s not so good news for the people who wish there were more state legislators who understand Eastern Oregon.

Census data also helps determine the distribution of more than $800 billion in federal grants through more than 300 different programs, such as Medicaid. According to an analysis by George Washington University, in 2015 Oregon lost $1,169 per person who had not been counted on the 2010 Census.

When a community has a lower rate of participation in the census than other communities, making its population seems smaller than it actually is, that community gets less than its fair share of funding for everything from Head Start to Section 8 low-incoming housing to highway improvements. Federal grants using census data have made many local projects possible, including the $2 million Community Development Block Grant to build Hermiston’s new senior center, and the $1.7 million Echo recently received to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant.

The private industry often uses population growth data as well, to make decisions about where to locate stores, restaurants, offices and factories.

If political power and money aren’t good incentives, how about patriotism? Filling out the census is a civic duty enshrined in the Constitution, right up there with paying your taxes or jury duty.

The idea of a census dates back to biblical times, but the first U.S. Census was taken in 1790, when Thomas Jefferson was president and the entire United States had fewer residents than Oregon does now. Since then, it has charted the growth of our nation a decade at a time, shaping the decisions of our leaders.

If you haven’t filled out the census yet, it only takes a few moments of your time. Simply fill out and mail back the paper copy your household has received, visit 2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020 for English or 844-468-2020 for Spanish. If you don’t do one of those things before Sept. 30, taxpayer dollars may be used to send someone to your door to ask you to fill one out in person.

The census only asks for each household member’s name, birth date, sex and race and whether the home is a single-family dwelling or apartment. There are no questions about finances, citizenship, political party, religion or other things people sometimes don’t like to talk about, and your answers are confidential.

Do it today. Your country and your community thank you for doing your part.

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