JOSHUA TREE — “Being counted = $$” is the slogan for the 2010 census, and the newly formed Morongo Basin Complete Count Committee Coalition met in the Sportsman’s Club Tuesday to discuss how to ensure a full count in the Morongo Basin.
“I’m a pie-in-the-sky kind of person,” said Mara Cantelo, chairwoman of the committee. “I want 100 percent response this time! In the last census we only had a 58 percent return of forms. There’s all these millions of dollars available, but we’re not getting them in the Basin.”
Census population counts are used to redistrict county areas and allocate federal money for services like hospitals and infrastructure.
“If we’re not counted, we’re not funded, and we’re not represented,” agreed coalition member Jennifer Cusack of the Hi-Desert Water District.
The coalition is working with census partnership specialist Ana Hernandez. Representatives from across the Hi-Desert have signed on to help their communities understand the importance of being counted next year.
“Getting people to listen is the first thing,” said Bill Tabor, president of the Sportsman’s Club. “Many of them don’t want to hear about it, or talk about it. They will pull a gun on you.”
All agreed that the biggest obstacle is gaining the confidence of the fiercely independent Hi-Desert denizens.
Coalition member Mike Lipsitz, editor of a Hi-Desert newspaper for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, said this group is typically under-counted. “They fear persecution,” Lipsitz explained.
The 2010 census form will be mailed to all addresses and post office boxes that are connected with a home delivery address in March. The form consists of only 10 questions, but it does require the name, age, birthdate, gender, ethnicity and race of each person in a household, and their relationship to the lead person filling out the form.
Households that mail back forms with sections left blank or eventually will be visited by a census worker. All workers, partners and volunteers are given background checks and are fingerprinted.
Personal information supplied on any of the legally mandated census forms is never released. Information is used for statistical purposes only and is never shared with any other agency.
Once the forms have been mailed to U.S. households, the Morongo Basin coalition is planning to provide Questionnaire Assistance Centers throughout the Basin. Workers will be trained by the census to help citizens fill out the forms and privacy will be insured for everyone.
“None of you would be here today if you didn’t think this was important,” Hernandez told the assembled partners. “We’re going through all of these procedures because we want to counter the misconceptions and the suspicions about the census. We want the trust factor in the communities to come from our partners.”