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Census 2010: The Potential Political Fallout for NW Ohio

Congress and Cash at Stake
2010 Census

The federal government’s official head count is always labeled as important—but the 2010 Census may have more at stake for Northwest Ohio than people realize.

Yes, our official population determines a lot of federal funding sources—everything from Community Development Block Grants that neighborhood groups rely on heavily, to various grants , pools, and pockets of taxpayer-funded cash.

Census officials estimate for every Toledoan that goes uncounted, our region will lose $1,000 per year. Over the next decade, that adds up to a $10,000 loss of federal funding for every man, woman, and child that is not represented in the official head count.

But Ohio also stands to lose one, and possibly two, Congressional seats. Ohio is the only state that could lose as many as two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

There are fears among many political observers that the state reapportionment board will look to Northwest Ohio next year to drastically redraw district lines as a result.

The possible scenarios are frightening: Democrat Marcy Kaptur’s urban district combined to some degree with Republican Bob Latta’s rural district—assuming both retain their seats in this year’s election, that potentially pits the two against each other. It also could pit urban vs. rural interests against each other, as the communities in our region slowly begin to cooperate again.

One or both districts could be carved up and molded into other Congressional districts . Rep. Kaptur’s district already stretches along Lake Erie to include the Lorain area, which identifies more with Cleveland than Toledo.

Rep. Latta’s district has a distinct rural flavor to it, which allows him to effectively represent farmers and small-town business owners, among other constituencies. Could portions of his district end up getting absorbed into suburban Columbus or Dayton?

Anything’s possible, depending on which party wins statewide races for governor, auditor, and attorney general—automatic seats on the reapportionment board.

About `100 volunteers spent last Saturday morning canvassing historically hard-to-count neighborhoods across Toledo—the Dorr St. corridor, North Toledo, and the Old South End. Those areas typically mail back their Census forms at a less-than-50 percent rate—and this year is no exception, according to officials from the Toledo Census office. They started the effort at the new United Way building in downtown Toledo.

Bill Kitson, president and CEO of the Unitd Way of Greater Toledo, said something that really struck me—and it pertains to people who hesitate to fill out the Census form, for whatever reason.

“The form may have ten questions on it, but at the end of the day, there’s only one question you need to fill in: that little box that shows how many people live in your household,” Kitson said. “The rest of it is nice-to-know information. The Census folks might not like me saying that, but truly, it is about the count. Let’s count bodies, make sure everyone is counted, and move on.”

Kitson realizes that some people don’t want the government to know too much about them—particularly their occupation, phone number, and other identifying information. There’s distrust, fear, a desire for privacy—all kinds of reasons people don’t want to take even ten minutes to fill out the questionnaire and mail it back.

His take is this: if you don’t want the Census Bureau to know your demographic and other information, then don’t. Just let’em know how many people live at your address and leave it at that. Participate, but only to a point.

The Census folks admit April 1 mailback date was a “soft deadline”. They’ll still take your form in the mail this month—and it prevents someone from knocking on your door to complete the count between May 1 and July 4th weekend.

Just some food for thought if you’re concerned about your voice not being heard in Congress. That faint echo that seems to fall on deaf ears in the hallowed hallways of Capitol Hill may be reduced to a whisper if you’re not careful.