Source: Sherman Publications

Seniors who fly south in winter are important for 2010 census, say officials

by Laura Colvin

February 10, 2010

Calling all snowbirds.

Local officials have a message as the 2010 U.S. Census swings into full gear in the month ahead.

“We have a large population of seniors who spend the winter in places like Florida or Arizona,” said Orion Township Clerk Penny Shults. “Just because they receive census forms in those states doesn’t mean they should fill them out there.”

The census, a once-per-decade operation designed to count every person living in the country, is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Beginning later this month and into March, the U.S. Census Bureau will send 2010 Census forms to every residence in the United States; federal law requires forms be completed to account for each person living at that address.

An accurate count, said Shults, is important to the Orion area. Once complied, census data will help determine where some $400 billion in federal funds is distributed annually for schools, hospitals, senior centers and other community facilities and services.

The data is also important for its original purpose: apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In order to ensure all Orion residents are counted, Shults.

“We were able to pick up 120 new addresses,” she said, noting many previously verified as one household have been subdivided into multiple apartments. “My background in assessing (was helpful) when I was doing that audit because I knew the community, had been to some of those addresses. We were able to send that information back to the census and get at least 120 of those address reinstated.”

It adds up.

Ensuring an accurate count—including snowbirds—was the meat in the message Katherine Graham of Oakland County Planning and Development brought to the Orion Township Board of Trustees Feb. 1.

“(Census forms) will go to every address in the county,” Graham said. “Census questionnaires are not addressed to a person. There is no name on the form.”

Instead, she explained, the forms are sent to verified addresses. If no one is living in the home, or the home has a forwarding address on file, the forms are sent back to the U.S. Census Bureau, not forwarded.

According to residence rules listed at on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, snowbirds—people who live in one state but spend the winter in another state with a warmer climate—should be counted at the residence where they live most of the year.

So what to do when a questionnaire arrives at the winter address?

“Enter a zero in box number one and send it back,” Graham said. “Or don’t send it back at all.”

Snowbirds returning to Michigan can send forms back as late as July, she added.

Graham also shared some of the county’s census calculations based on the $400 billion appropriated nationally.

“One person is $10,000,” she said. “It doesn’t take very long for that money to add up; if you undercount by just 100 people, your’re already out a million dollars for your state and ultimately, possibly, your community.”

Next week: What does the census want to know, and how private are your answers?