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With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still raging across the United States, priorities for many Americans have changed drastically over the past several weeks.

And while the 2020 U.S. Census enumeration may not be of prime concern to some residents, El Dorado City Council Member Willie McGhee, who is heading up the city’s Complete Count Committee, and Union County Judge Mike Loftin are reminding area residents that the Census is ongoing.

McGhee and Loftin are encouraging residents to complete and return Census forms, noting that an accurate population count is important to the quality of life in El Dorado and Union County.

“My thing is, I know the pandemic is going on and it’s front and center. People have lost their jobs. Businesses have closed but we can’t stress how important that census is in helping us to rebuild after this,” McGhee said.

Loftin noted that state turnback funds are based on population for the county and its cities.

The state of Arkansas “turns back” funds collected from tax revenue to counties and cities to provide essential services, including law enforcement and fire protection, street and highway maintenance, solid waste services, schools and health care.

“It’s important not only for our city, but also for (Union County). It’ll also help our schools, community projects, hospitals, police department, rural areas …,” McGhee said previously. “I don’t know how much more rural we can get in Arkansas, but we’re in a rural area and we can use every penny and every dollar.”

On Thursday, McGhee noted that the city lost approximately one-third of turnback and grant funds due to what he believes was an inaccurate population count for El Dorado a decade ago.

“We’re talking about millions that we’re losing and that’s what we’re stuck with based on a 10-year count,” McGhee said Thursday.

Per the 2010 Census, El Dorado’s population was 18,884. As of July 1, 2019, the city’s population was estimated at 17,651.

For Union County, the 2010 Census count placed its population at 41,639. The county’s population was estimated at 38,682 in July 2019, representing a decrease of 7.1%.

As of May 20, 55.3% of households in El Dorado have responded to the 2020 Census enumeration, according to the U.S. Census self-response rankings.

Just over 52% of Union County households have returned Census forms.

In Arkansas, 54.6%, or 884,000, households are represented in the 2020 Census count so far.

McGhee and Loftin said they are taking steps to continue to raise awareness and educate residents about the Census and to ensure that they reach a 100% response ranking for El Dorado and Union County, or as close to an accurate count for the area as possible.

County residents who have received their 2020 property tax statements found a letter from Loftin enclosed.

The letter emphasized how vital it is for residents to participate in the 2020 Census.

Loftin reiterated that turnback funds are based on population and the data that is collected is used determine federal funding opportunities for essential services and potentially new community services, programs and projects.

He noted that $675 billion in federal funding is available for these services and area officials and civic leaders want to make sure El Dorado and Union County receive their fair share.

“Another reason why it’s important that your household comply, the (Census) statistics determine the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Loftin wrote. “In addition, federal, state and local government agencies use (Census) data to implement their programs and plan new services.”

Loftin also noted that completing and returning Census forms are required by law.

McGhee also previously said Census data serves as an invaluable historical record for the area.

COVID-19 has affected the meeting schedule of the city’s Complete Count Committee, which is made up of approximately 15 members who represent a cross-section of the community.

But McGhee said the committee is exploring options to continue to spread the word about the importance of participating in the Census.

“I was going to communicate with the committee that since we are sheltering in place and staying in — that we use our own contacts and call people,” McGhee said.

Just before the COVID-19 outbreak, McGhee said Debra Joyner, the area’s partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, was scheduled to appear before the El Dorado City Council during a March meeting with information about the Census.

The council meeting, however, was canceled due to COVID-19.

McGhee said he plans to check with Joyner on the availability of advertising dollars and work with local radio stations to promote the Census.

Census forms may be completed online, by phone or by mail.

McGhee said some residents have said they have experienced difficulty filling out the forms online and by phone.

He and Loftin encouraged residents to return forms by mail if they encounter such issues.

The public health crisis has also altered the schedule for the Census enumeration.

April 1 was Census Day and the U.S. Census Bureau suspended field operations due to COVID-19 and delayed the start of efforts to reach the homeless population and people living in group quarters, such as college dormitories and nursing homes.

The effort was scheduled to launch in mid-April.

Census workers had also been scheduled to visit households that have not responded to the Census in May and July.

Census Bureau officials have said they plan to complete the head count between the end of July and mid-August to make the Dec. 31 deadline for the U.S. population and apportionment — the drawing of legislative districts — counts.

For more information about how to respond to the Census, visit 2020census.gov or call 1-800-923-8282 or 301-763-INFO (4636).

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