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Cathy Lacy, U.S. Census Bureau regional director in Denver, helped open North Dakota's Area Census Office in Bismarck on Thursday by urging all state residents to fill out a 2020 census form. "This is the easiest thing you have ever done for your household," she said at the event attended by local, state and tribal leaders.

Local, state, federal and tribal leaders on Thursday celebrated the opening of North Dakota's Area Census Office in Bismarck ahead of the 2020 Census.

The office will be a base for staff to gather data on the North Dakota population as part of the decennial national census beginning April 1. Organizers expect to employ hundreds of staff across the state.

“This is a historic event. We only do it once every decade. We have one opportunity to get things right,” said Cathy Lacy, the U.S. Census Bureau's regional director in Denver. “We need everyone to make sure we are working together for a complete and accurate census.”

The census is the largest peacetime deployment of civil servants across the country. It will help determine how more than $675 billion in annual federal funding will be allocated to schools, hospitals, roads and other programs, according to the Census Bureau website.

The North Dakota Complete Count Task Force, created by Gov. Doug Burgum in May, is leading a statewide effort to recruit census takers, or enumerators. Subcommittees led by community leaders are focusing on getting Bakken oil patch workers, Native Americans, retirees, military members, college students and immigrants counted.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who appointed task force leaders across the state, said there are 105 people in North Dakota working on the 2020 Census.

“We need more than 1,200 census team members, and (they) will be needed to contact households by mail and visit people in person,” he said. “So while we made great progress, there’s much more help still needed."

Census takers are paid weekly and will receive mileage reimbursement. 

Sanford said having a full staff is important to “ensure that everyone returns their survey and gets counted.” For every person who isn’t counted, North Dakota will lose about $19,100 in funding for the next 10 years, he said.

Sanford said he saw the effects of the 2010 census not counting thousands of residents while he was mayor of Watford City -- a community that experienced rapid growth during the North Dakota oil boom. Revised census estimates of the city “towards the middle of the decade” counted 7,000 people, after the census had counted just 1,740, he said.

“Because of us undercounting by 5,000 people, we cost the state over $100 million of lost revenue," Sanford said. “So this is an extremely important job. It will require an enormous amount of work and passion.”

Lacy said her team is trying to increase the number of people who self-respond, such as by filling out a questionnaire and mailing it to the Census Bureau.

“Statistics have shown if people self-respond, the information is more accurate,” she said.

People also will be able to fill out an online form for the 2020 census for the first time in history. They also can respond to questions over the phone.

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Jamie Azure also spoke Thursday.

“This is how we bring everything out and we talk about it, and we educate our people,” Azure said. “This is just another step of education on another level, and letting our people know that this affects every piece of our way of life in Native nation.”

Complete Count Task Force co-chairwoman Louise Dardis said her years working with immigrant students as an assistant superintendent with the West Fargo School District inspired her to get involved with the census. When she retired in 2013, there were 400 refugee students in West Fargo, and now there are 700, she said.

“Behind all those kids there are families, and so you think of what that does to a census and a census count -- it would have a huge impact,” she said.

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Reach Andy Tsubasa Field at 701-250-8264 or andy.field@bismarcktribune.com.

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City Government Reporter