The City of Austin is preparing for the first census to be conducted, at least partially, online. The every-10-year-count is used to allocate federal funds to states and determines how many seats a state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.
At a presentation to City Council on Tuesday, Ryan Robinson, a demographer for the city, said Texas could gain three seats because of its population boom.
“Twenty percent of population growth [nationwide] since 2010 has occurred in the state of Texas,” he said.
John Lawler, the city’s census program manager, said postcards with a unique online ID for people to take the census will be sent out in March. The postcards will take a few weeks to reach all of Austin. Some neighborhoods will receive postcards with instructions in English and other languages.
He said if residents don't receive a postcard or accidently throw it away, they can go online and answer questions to get a unique ID and be counted.
After a few weeks, the city will assess results and determine whether workers need to go door to door in certain areas.
Robinson and Lawler told council members young children, people experiencing homelessness and non-English-speaking residents who may not have access to a translator are most at-risk for not being counted. An undercount means less federal money for services like the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Council Member Ann Kitchen asked if last month's point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness could be used to help out with the census. Robinson said while the data collected by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition can’t be used as part of the census, it can be used to locate areas where they are living.
Lawler said there’s no question moving the census process online is going to help some residents.
“But for others it will not,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we provide resources so folks who don’t necessarily have the means to take [the census] online will be able to take advantage of that.”
The city is looking for ways to help people who might not have access to the internet or a computer. The Austin Public Library has committed to hosting census stations where APL staff will be available to walk residents through the process.
“They have now dedicated all their libraries to having a census workstation,” Lawler said. “What that means is if someone walks in [and] wants to take the census, they can walk up to a dedicated computer and take it right there.”
The census workstations will be available daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. from March 12 through July 31.