Democracy is about its people’s willingness and capacity to participate. Two opportunities currently present themselves that will test our willingness and capacity to be patriotic participants in our centuries old democracy: the 2020 Census and the November election.
Most people think the census’ main purpose is to determine the number of representatives we send to Congress. That’s true, but often people don’t realize how important the decennial (10 years) census is for rural areas like Highland County. Census data are collected three different ways: by mail-in, electronically over the Internet, and by census takers at your door. If folks haven’t self-responded, a certified census taker will try to collect your data at your home.
Doing a decennial census is required by the U.S Constitution (Article 1, Sec.2), but our personal motivation for seeing it done completely can be viewed as self-interest. Here’s why. Our congressional policymakers and government agencies use the census data to make decisions about how to allocate federal funding (over $650 billion) for programs that serve all of America but especially, in our circumstance, that serve rural communities. Like what?
The socio-economic data collected by the decennial census are used to make funding determinations about infrastructure like roads, bridges, access to broad bandwidth, public health care, hospitals, clinics, CHIP (Child Health Insurance Program), USDA assistance programs, low-income housing loans, interest rates on federal loan programs, water and waste programs for rural communities, food insecurity programs like SNAP (nutritional assistance programs), educational programs, and various Title programs. Formulas for determining Medicaid and Medicare Part B are also determined by average state income levels.
It would belabor the obvious to say that we in Highland County do not want to be underrepresented for any of these valuable funding resources. In many respects it’s a form of state competition and we want to be first in line for what is due to Highland County and, of course, the state of Ohio. In terms of “self-response rates,” Highland County is currently at 63.7 percent, compared with the rest of Ohio which is at 68.9%. If folks have not completed census data for their household, all the necessary information can be found, very simply stated, at 2020census.gov.
The second opportunity that presents itself is of course the upcoming national election. I’ve always liked something Franklin D. Roosevelt said about voting which I think is applicable to both elections and participation in the decennial census. He said, “Never let us forget that government is ourselves, not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president, and senators, and congressmen, and government officials, but the voters of this country.” A corollary to that, yet not to diminish the words of FDR, is that policies and policymakers abhor a vacuum. If we as citizens don’t give voice to our opinions, our circumstances and our choices for our representative government then others will, and often with impunity.
It could be said that the greatest demonstration of patriotism is the deliberate act of direct participation in our democracy and right now we have two opportunities to show what that means to each of us. Let’s speak up for Highland County!
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.