In Charlotte and around the country Monday, officials formally kicked off the 2010 Census with bipartisan, multicultural rallies that stressed the political and financial benefits at stake.
"The census is absolutely essential to our federal dollars, our state dollars and our local dollars," Mecklenburg Board of County commissioners Chairman Jennifer Roberts told an uptown crowd. "The process is simple. It's secure. And it's significant."
The rallies were part of the Census Bureau's $340 million promotional blitz designed to raise awareness of the decennial counting. Officials will launch a "Portrait of America Road Tour" in blue vans stocked with shirts, water bottles and other promotional material.
Vans were on display at rallies from Boston Harbor to Times Square to the Santa Monica Pier. At a chilly gathering at The Square, Roberts and other elected officials joined a Native American in traditional dress and representatives of other minority and ethnic communities in urging people to take part.
"There are 10 questions, it takes 10 minutes, and it makes a difference for your community for 10 years," said Wayne Hatcher, the Census Bureau's Charlotte-based regional director.
The survey goes to every household in March. Among other things, it asks for names, gender, age and race. The goal is a snapshot of everybody in America on April 1. Results will be available early next year.
At stake are the number of Carolinas representatives in Congress, and millions of dollars in government spending. Population figures helped steer federal grants of more than $478 billion for Medicaid, highways, housing and other programs in the past fiscal year. Census numbers also determine the shape of local voting districts and budgets.
"It's so vital to North Carolina and it's vital to the nation," said U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Cherryville Republican and ranking member of a House subcommittee that oversees the census. "Every individual gets their representation, whether to the school board or U.S. House, based on the official count."
Ten years ago, 36 percent of N.C. households failed to respond to census questionnaires. An army of enumerators was deployed to go house to house.
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