Census Day was April 1, but people still have time to fill out their census form online, by phone or by mail.


About $880 billion in federal funding is allocated across the country based on the U.S. census, according to news release from the office of Gov. Jared Polis.


The governor’s office said that roughly $13 billion annually, or an estimated $2,300 per person, is allocated to Colorado. The release also suggested that with a high and accurate census count Colorado could potentially be eligible for an eighth congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.


The catch is, before any of that can happen for the new decade ahead, people need to actually fill out their census surveys. Otero Department of Human Services Director Donna Rohde says that it’s vital that everyone does just that.


Census takers are scheduled to conduct household interviews in person with those who have neglected to take the census online, by phone or mail, by May 27.


Rohde acknowledged that some residents of Otero County and Southeast Colorado may be reluctant to give their information to the government. But she stressed that census benefits can only be capitalized on if everyone in the county participates.


"We're a very private state and we're certainly a very private area. You know, we don't want to give a lot of information to the government, we don't want to be on the government assistance programs and that kind of stuff," said Rohde. "But these are dollars like FEMA dollars. When we have a blizzard and our ranchers need FEMA dollars, part of it's going to be driven by the census.


"Southeast Colorado, we're not big anway, but if we don't count every single person who lives in this part of the state, and in this county, and in this particular town, then our chances of getting federal dollars — I mean, even before this."


By "this," Rohde meant the COVID-19 pandemic.


As of Thursday morning Otero County Health Department had announced its fifth case of the novel coronavirus within the county.


Statewide, a total of 5,655 confirmed cases had been reported by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment as of Wednesday. The department also reported 1,162 hospitalizations, 44 outbreaks at residential and non-residential health facilities, and 193 deaths.


"If this doesn't shine a light on why we need to fill out the census in Otero County, I don't know what does," said Rohde.


Municipalities, counties and states that want to utilize allocated federal funds need to demonstrate that they have the populations to utilize those dollars. The less of a population that is counted in the census, the less federal funding that population is applicable for.


Keeping in mind that the next census count won’t be for another decade, it’s important to have as much participation now as possible.


"If we have folks who don't complete the census, for whatever reason, they are not counted and we don't, we're not eligible for the federal funding," Rohde said.


As of March 27, said Rohde, Otero County’s census participation is lower than the state average.


Otero County has an average census response rate of 29.6%, slightly below the state’s average response rate of 31.2%.


The national census occurs every 10 years, with the last one taking place in 2010. Its purpose is to count every person in the country in order to have accurate data on the size and shape of the country’s population and economy. Census data also decides how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.


Census data informs how government funding is apportioned and guides business leaders’ decision making. The data serves as a reference for local, state and federal government as well as businesses, organizations and the general public.


"Invitations," small cards sent in the mail, have been distributed to virtually everyone in the United States. The cards contain a personal ID number that allows one to perform the census survey online.


Persons can only fill out the survey once. It takes approximately five to 10 minutes to take and asks basic questions about one’s demographic and the size of their household. Only one person per household is required to take the census.


"The census is now, so people have gotten their cards and can respond online," said Rohde. "Or there will be census workers that are going to try to maintain, you know, maintain the distance, but they've been putting that out a little bit."


The census cards were distributed around March 12 - 20, according to 2020census.gov, the official website for the 2020 census.


Each census card contains a unique ID number for the person it’s issued to that they can use to login to their census survey form online.


Taking the census survey is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Neglecting to take the survey may result in a fine of up to $100, and answering questions falsely could result in a fine of up to $500, according to Title 13 of U.S. Code. Census takers are scheduled to start conducting household interviews in person with those who have neglected to respond by May 27, although the self-response window was extended to Oct. 31 due to the pandemic.


Everyone, even without an invitation and Census ID, can respond at https://2020census.gov or by phone at 844-330-2020 (Spanish: 844-468-2020).