For Cullman County governments, getting an accurate census count is imperative, as census numbers are used in determining grant eligibility, sales tax distribution, federal funding and elected representation.
Letters encouraging people to fill out their census forms went out March 12 and Cullman’s municipalities had a series of events planned to promote completing the form. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, brought those to an abrupt halt.
Now Cullman County cities, led by Cullman’s example, are trying to pull off a win-win by supporting local stores through the purchase of gift cards that they give away in drawings to people who have completed their census forms and by reaching people in other ways.
Paden Adams, a University of Alabama student studying communications, has been hired on a part-time basis by the city of Cullman to do the shopping for the gift cards and to help people fill out their census forms.
“From what we’ve seen, based on numbers, it’s been really successful so far,” she said. In the 2010 Census, the city had a completion rate between 63-65 percent. As of Wednesday morning, with several months left to go to get people counted, the city’s completion rate is 62 percent.
“We’ve already seen really great numbers and it’s early May,” said Adams. The Census Bureau has extended the deadline for completing the census count into the fall.
People are sharing the gift card drawings on social media — drawings are done several times a week and sometimes several times a day — and the businesses have also been supportive, she said.
“The businesses have been so kind. They’ve been really, really thrilled when I show up to purchase something from them.”
All the gift cards are from 50-60 locally owned businesses and restaurants and they vary in value. To enter the drawings, people can fill out a form on the city’s website. Only Cullman residents can participate in the Cullman drawing; however, Hanceville and Good Hope are also doing drawings for their residents.
In addition to working on the city’s Census Challenge, Adams is also available three days a week to help people who need assistance filling out the form.
For example, she received a call from an older resident who said he didn’t have a computer or internet access. “He had seen that he needed to do his census and he wanted to know how to do that,” she said.
Adams offered to fill out the form for him over the phone. “I was probably on the phone with him for about 5 minutes,” she said. “It was super simple.”
The city is also starting census drives in conjunction with local charities and larger businesses to get employees and customers to complete the census.
“We’ll have iPads and computers, there will probably be six of us out there or so, and we’ll ask people ‘do you have five minutes to complete your census? It’s really great for our city and our state. This is where all our federal funding comes from for roads and schools,’” she said. “Most people are very nice about it and responsive because they know the importance of it and want to do their civic duty.”
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the Census Bureau’s timeline to complete the decennial count until the end of October, Adams said in one way it’s helped. “It’s actually a great time to be doing this because no one is really in a rush right now to be anywhere,” she said.
People needing assistance with the census form can call Adams at 256-775-7235 or email email@example.com.
Editor Amy Henderson can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 216.