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For the U.S. Census Bureau, the Big Day has arrived.
That's because today the questionnaire for the 2010 census goes into the mail - theoretically, to every household in America.
"It's really exciting. We've been going all out for this," said Julie Meister, manager of the census office in Toledo.
The census, required by the Constitution to be done at least once every 10 years, is the nation's most comprehensive attempt to count each of its citizens. Every household receiving a census form is required to fill it out and mail it back.
Those who don't are subject to a visit from a census worker, called an "enumerator," whose job is to collect the information belatedly from April through July.
The Census Bureau has sent a notice to every household that the form will arrive soon. That was done so people wouldn't think their census questionnaire was junk mail, said John Willse, a Census Bureau spokesman in Cleveland.
"The census is not a sampling. It's as accurate a count as possible," he said.
The census results are used to determine not just a state's congressional representation but also the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds to such recipients as hospitals, job training centers, schools, public works projects, and emergency services providers.
At 10 this morning, the Toledo-Lucas County Complete Count Committee, a census advocacy group, will hold a news conference at the Chester Zablocki Senior Center, 3015 Lagrange St., at which Mayor Mike Bell will be presented with an oversized census questionnaire.
The presentation is intended to point up the census' importance to the community, said Margarita
De Leon, a partnership specialist with the Census Bureau.
"Our mission is to make sure every resident in our community is counted. We have been meeting monthly since the fall, doing events across the community, sharing with everybody the importance of being counted in our census," she explained.
The simplified form for the 2010 census is a departure from past practice, Mr. Willse said.
"It's the simplest form the census has ever had," he explained.
"It's only 10 questions long and there's no personal information asked such as a Social Security number or credit information."
Indeed, Nadia Fadel-Bazzi, who manages the Dearborn, Mich., census office, said she uses the shortness and simplicity of the form as a selling point when speaking to groups.
"I say, it's '10 minutes for 10 questions,'•" said Ms. Fadel-Bazzi, whose office oversees the census in Monroe and Lenawee counties.
Census questionnaire answers are strictly confidential. The Census Bureau cannot share them with anyone, including police and other federal agencies.
Resident college students, such as those at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University, will be included in the census for each of those cities even if their family homes are elsewhere, Mr. Willse said.
On the other hand, "snowbirds" wintering, say, in Florida will not be counted as residents of the Sunshine State, he added.
Ohio will have about 25,000 enumerators visiting households that fail to return a questionnaire.
About 1,200 of these are expected to work out of the Toledo office.
The exact number needed depends on the return rate. In 2000, the national return rate was 67 percent; Ohio's was 70 percent, Mr. Willse said.
Households that return a questionnaire save the federal government big money.
The cost of sending an enumerator to an address is about $25.
"We can save $85 million to $90 million for every 1 percent we increase the mail-back rate," Mr. Willse said.
"That's the cost of having to send people out. So if you don't want someone to knock on your door, mail it back."
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