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Arizona ranks close to national average in census participation

Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX — Arizona ranks right around the national average so far when it comes to residents mailing back their 2010 census forms, but average isn’t good enough with federal dollars and congressional representation at stake, state and local officials said Wednesday.
“If even just a few people in Arizona don’t fill out that form, we lose a part of our voice and our power in the ability to make decisions for our state,” Secretary of State Ken Bennett said.
Aiming to boost participation, the U.S. Census Bureau has posted an interactive map showing response rates in real time for states, counties and municipalities. As of late Wednesday afternoon, Arizona’s response rate was 50 percent, slightly behind the national average of 52 percent.
Among counties, Pima led with 54 percent, followed by 53 percent in Cochise and Yavapai and 51 percent in Maricopa. La Paz had the lowest return rate at 30 percent.
Oro Valley led municipalities with 64 percent, followed by Payson at 61 percent and Huachuca City and Prescott Valley at 60 percent. Gila Bend was last at 20 percent.
Arizona currently holds eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but its
population growth relative to other states since the 2000 census has officials such as Bennett optimistic about adding not just one but two seats.
“Citizens of Arizona need to be represented proportionally, and if we can’t get everyone to participate then that won’t happen,” he said.
Census numbers are also used to allocate $400 billion in federal funds each year to areas, helping, among other things, schools, hospitals and emergency services.
Al Macias, a regional partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said that if the population and demographics reflected in Arizona’s final count are lower than reality, the effect will cost state and local governments for at least the next decade.
“If we are undercounted in Arizona we will lose those dollars to other states and we won’t get our fair share back,” he said.
In Maricopa County alone, each person on average accounts for $1,550 in federal funding, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.
Tom Belsche, deputy director for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said it is extremely important that smaller cities are counted as accurately as possible to get their fair share of funding.
“It can be very difficult for them,” he said. “The more likely they are to get counted, the more likely they can keep up in this economy.”
Officials in Bullhead City are going all out, parading fire trucks through neighborhoods with banners touting the census and promoting participation through booths at grocery stores, said Steve Johnson, a city spokesman. The city’s response rate was at 46 percent Wednesday.
“Every single dollar is important here in our city because we have a variety of economic levels in a small population,” Johnson said. “People depend on the services this federal funding can help us provide.”

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