Supervisors digest new information as 2020 Census approaches

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: April 16, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

Fort Lee, prison populations among data points of interest for Prince George

PRINCE GEORGE – When the calendar turns to 2020, the work of thousands of Census workers gets underway in full force as the once-a-decade comprehensive count of the nation’s population is tallied and compiled, which has major ramifications in terms of funding for states and individual communities across America, among those roles the data play in, such as election district design.

Earlier this month, Virginia took part in Census Awareness Day on April 1, serving as the “one-year countdown to the 2020 Census.”

“A complete and accurate count of all Virginians is both a critical component of our representative democracy and an important way to ensure our communities receive the share of federal resources they need to thrive,” said Governor Northam. “My administration is working diligently to make certain that Virginia is ready for the 2020 Census—that is why I proposed a budget amendment that provides $1.5 million to support education, outreach, and preparation efforts aimed at encouraging full participation in the 2020 Census, especially in communities that are hard-to-count and historically undercounted.”

According to General Assembly records, during their reconvened session this month, the House of Delegates voted in favor of the amendment 61-34, with Del. Lashrecse Aird (D – Prince George, Dinwiddie) supporting the bill and Del. Emily Brewer (R – Prince George, Surry) and Riley Ingram (R – Prince George) voting against it but the State Senate narrowly rejected the amendment by two votes at 18 yeas and 20 nays. Senator Rosalyn Dance (D – Prince George) supported the proposal, while Senator Frank Ruff (R – Prince George) was among the 20 dissenting votes on the amendment.

Had it been approved by the General Assembly, the Northam Administration said it would have provided funding for the development and distribution of resource materials to local governments and nonprofit organizations, public education efforts, and other Census outreach initiatives.

Even before the governor’s proposed budget amendment, local governments were already getting themselves prepared for the upcoming Census, engaging in conversations with stakeholders and other officials to gather information ahead of 2020, Prince George included. 

For the county, the Census has been a matter of concern since the 2010 count was conducted because, according to Prince George County Attorney Steven Micas, Fort Lee was “undercounted” by the Census, resulting in Prince George filing an appeal of that figure.

According to U.S. Census data, the county’s population at the time of the 2010 Census was 35,725. During a report to supervisors, Micas explained there were some population groups within Fort Lee that were or weren’t counted during the 2010 Census, which likely affected the county’s total.

Those military members who were at the base for some form of training, spending anywhere from a weekend up to a week for specialty education at Fort Lee were not counted toward Prince George County’s population, even though they may have been residing in hotels in the area. According to Micas, those servicemembers were counted as being at their home base, despite them not being there physically at the time of the count.

Those who have been stationed at Fort Lee for a number of years as part of a military career were counted as living at the base during 2010 but, those receiving advanced job training in various military occupational specialties, MOS for short, who may have been at Fort Lee for anywhere from three to nine months were, according to Micas, “undercounted” in the 2010 Census, with officials telling county representatives that those military members were counted at their home base, similar to how those training for up to a week’s time at Fort Lee were also counted at their military base of origin.

According to Micas, proposed legislation would allow for that previously undercounted population to be counted at Fort Lee during the 2020 Census. In a 2018 memo entitled “2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Situations,” among the situations specifically for United States military personnel, it notes that servicemembers and their dependents living with them “living either on-base or off-base who are not assigned to barracks/dormitories on Census Day” will be “counted at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time.”

That same language applies to, “People away from their usual residence on Census Day, such as on vacation, or a business trip, visiting, traveling outside of the United States or working elsewhere without a usual residence there.”

According to 2017 estimates, Fort Lee’s population rests just over 4,900. 

The counting of America’s military population has made headlines over the last several months. A report from NPR explained recently implemented security protocols that have placed restrictions on deployed American servicemembers may put the accuracy of the upcoming census “at risk,” as, according to the January 2019 memo, the Defense Manpower Data Center “can no longer report currently deployed Service Members,” with the DMDC’s records for the census slated to be “as of ‘April 1, 2020,’ and the DMDC will receive deployment data a month after an individual completes their deployment. 

“This new guidance places us in jeopardy of not having the information necessary to count those who are deployed overseas in the communities in which they live, placing the 2020 Census at risk,” Census officials said in the early 2019 memo.

Fort Lee, along with the jail populations in the county given Riverside Regional Jail & the Federal correctional complex could play a key role in the upcoming local district re-draw that will occur in 2021 following the 2020 Census.

The goal of the re-drawing of local districts after a census is to achieve a “one man, one vote” ratio based on the fresh data gathered following the census. According to Prince George County Attorney Micas, the county could opt to have the prison population removed from the local redistricting, citing a new law that allowed for that without prior approval from the Justice Department being needed as part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

According to data provided by the county, Riverside Regional Jail’s population was just over 1,200 inmates, based on their average daily population from 2018, while the Federal prison population totaled just under 1,550 inmates. 

In any case, the county will have to equalize districts to ensure equal representation following the 2020 Census. Micas also said the county could, at that time, opt to go from multi-supervisor districts, which is the county’s current governing structure, to single-supervisor districts but, the requirement to ensure a balance between districts in terms of the number of people represented within each one would remain.

“Data literally shape the future of your community. That’s why it’s so important that everyone understands that responding to the 2020 Census is safe, easy and important,” Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham said last week to media, with  Albert E. Fontenot Jr., the associate director for Decennial Census Programs, stating, “In 2020, all households will have the option to respond to the census online, over the phone and by mail.”

“We have successfully completed numerous tests to validate our systems and operations to support these innovations while ensuring that respondent data remain confidential, and we are ready to conduct the most technologically advanced and accurate decennial census in our nation’s history,” he closed.

To learn more about the upcoming census, visit the government’s website at http://census.gov. Census Day 2020 is scheduled for April 1 of next year.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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