ST. JOSEPH — It’s been two months since the 2020 Census was sent out and about 25,000 Berrien County households still need to complete it.

“The Census Bureau is no longer sending out reminders so if you’re living in one of those households, go online at my2020census.gov or call toll-free 1-844-330-2020 to complete the form. It takes about 10 minutes and your individual information is confidential,” Kathy Stady, Berrien County Census Hub coordinator, said Friday.

Berrien County is sitting at a 62 percent response rate as of Wednesday, with Van Buren and Cass counties sitting at about 60 percent.

The U.S. Census Bureau updates response rates every few days.

The overall response rate for Michigan is 66.5 percent, while the national average is 59.8 percent.

Stady said it’s critical that every single person is counted.

“The census is how our federal dollars are returned to us to fund projects and programs that we count on,” she said. “This current census count will be the basis for federal funding for the next 10 years for roads, education, school lunches, housing, Head Start, Medicaid, Medicare and other federal programs all based on census data.”

A lot of these programs are being used right now to help people in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can take some measure of comfort in knowing that help is available during this time for the most needy and vulnerable among us,” Stady said.

Through federal funds allocated to the state of Michigan:

  • Special programs for the aging continue to provide nutritious meals to our older adults who cannot leave their homes.
  • School breakfast and lunch programs can still provide meals and snacks to children throughout the state even though they are not currently attending school.
  • MIChild continues to administer health care programs to the low-income, uninsured children of Michigan’s working families.
  • Health care centers in underserved rural and urban communities continue to provide primary health care services, regardless of the ability to pay.
  • The Child Care and Development Fund continues to provide financial assistance for childcare, so parents may continue to work.

“While programs such as these are particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic, we must make sure we have them in the future,” Stady said.

Stady said the Berrien County Census Hub, in partner with the Berrien Community Foundation, have been reaching out to residents through flyers in school lunch packets, postcards and social media. Some local census events planned by nonprofits have been rescheduled to late summer.

Those events will help get hard-to-count residents counted.

Parts of Berrien County have been identified as “hard-to-count” because of lack of internet access, high homeless or couch surfing rates, or low income areas.

Benton Harbor is an example of this, with only 49 percent of its households responding as of Wednesday, but that’s up from 43 percent on April 7.

Most of Southwest Michigan’s other population centers, even the ones with a lot of second homes, saw closer to a 10-20 percent increase in responses from April 7 to now.

Those areas with low response rates include South Haven, which is now at 41 percent, up from 30 percent; New Buffalo, which had 25 percent and is now at 35 percent; Hagar Township, which had 35 percent and is now at 48 percent; and Watervliet Township, which rose from 37 percent to 52 percent.

Comparing those numbers to the rest of Southwest Michigan’s population centers:

Benton Township is at 59 percent; Hartford is at 62 percent; Berrien Springs, Niles and Bangor are at 63 percent; Dowagiac is at 61 percent; Bridgman and St. Joseph are at 64 percent; Coloma is at 66 percent; Watervliet and Shoreham are at 67 percent; Eau Claire is at 68 percent; Buchanan is at 69 percent; Baroda is at 73 percent; while Stevensville comes in with a 74 percent response rate, Royalton Township is at 75 percent, and Lincoln Township is at 76 percent.

Stady said the Census Bureau has revised its operations schedule yet again, due to the COVID-19 crisis, so census staff are now scheduled in August to begin going door-to-door to the households that have not completed the census form. They were first set to start knocking on doors at the beginning of May, then the end of May.

Census employees will only go to households that have not submitted their census form by August.

To complete the census, visit my2020census.gov, call toll-free 844-330-2020, or return the paper survey. Some homes received a paper survey in March, others in April. If you did not receive any census information, you are still able to complete the form online or by phone by entering your address.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman