Every 10 years we are asked to do one of the easiest, safest and most important things we can do for our communities: fill out our Census form. It doesn’t sound exciting or glamorous, but without census data, our communities, neighbors and families risk losing out on federal money they deserve.

This data will form the baseline of how towns, cities and counties like ours get ahead the next 10 years.

An accurate count determines how all of our taxpayer money comes back here to fund hundreds of programs. It determines whether a business will relocate or create new offices or restaurants in our area. It will determine whether Montana gets a second voice in Congress.

The Census truly is about money and power: nationally, $675 billion in funding gets decided each year by census data. If Montana comes up short, then our tax dollars go to other states.

We have grown a lot in the last decade. The growth comes with a cost, and the census is the way our nation decides how to balance those costs for the services and benefits our communities need and want. If we don’t have an accurate count for 2020, the effects will last for the next decade.

Residents will spend 10 minutes, at most, to fill out the Census, but the consequences will last for the next 10 years. So it is vitally important that you fill out your Census form and ask everyone you know to do the same for our communities.

The Census Bureau will protect your data and ensure it remains private. Census employees are sworn to protect the data they collect for life and would face penalties of jail and huge fines if they shared it. Data the bureau collects gets generalized, so your name and address do not get released and no data comes out for 72 years.

Everyone in your household counts. Newborns count. Dogs don’t count, but veterinarians do. Cows also don’t count, but ranchers do. Everyone counts. And we are counting on all of you to make sure we get our fair share for the next decade.

The census will determine support for our county for the next decade. There are no delays, there are no do-overs, and there are no excuses. The Census Bureau is right: it is safe, easy and vitally important for our nation. For the first time ever, you can fill out your census form online; just go to 2020census.gov once you receive your notice in the mail and follow the instructions.

If you want to use the paper form, you can send that back in, and you can also call and a Census employee sworn to protect your data will collect it. With increased concerns about COVID-19 spreading in our communities, the census is easier than ever to take in the safety and security of your home or in a place of your choosing while you practice social distancing.

You can do it online within minutes, over the phone or by sending your paper form back. There is no need to interact with a Census employee unless you don’t fill it out on your own.  

No matter how you respond, everyone living in your household on April 1 needs to be counted as part of the 2020 Census. Our next decade and our next generation depend on what you do in the course of 10 minutes.