Horry County residents have an opportunity to improve their community this year.
The question is whether they will take advantage of it.
Every 10 years, the U.S. Census counts the number of people in each city, county and state. The process helps determine how $675 billion in federal funds is allocated and whether any communities will get new congressional seats.
But so far, South Carolina’s response rate is among the worst in the country.
As of last month, the Palmetto State ranked 41st in the nation in participation.
Fewer than 44% of the state’s people had responded to the census either online or by mail.
That’s not only disappointing, it could be harmful.
Housing aid for the elderly, school lunch programs, food stamps and the Head Start system all receive federal funding, and the Census plays a key role in determining how much of that money the area receives.
Undercounting means fewer dollars flowing into vital programs.
We understand the COVID-19 pandemic is delaying responses. Census volunteers who would normally be out talking with residents had to change their approach in the age of social distancing.
That’s why it’s critical for residents not to wait. They need to respond either by mail or by visiting the Census website: 2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond/responding-online.html.
Another reason the count is important? Most counties and municipalities in the state are projected to lose revenue after the Census, according to Statehouse Report, which reviewed projections from the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office. Across South Carolina, 78% of counties and 81% of cities are expected to show population declines or stagnant growth, according to Statehouse Report.
Horry County is an exception. It’s one of 10 counties expected to show growth after the Census and that could translate into $1.5 million in additional revenue.
It’s understandable that folks have other concerns on their minds at the moment. The new coronavirus has devastated the Grand Strand’s tourism-dependent economy. A (now lifted) government ban on short-term rentals, the forced closure of dine-in restaurants and a stay-at-home order have left the area in dire shape.
More than 40,000 Horry County residents have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began.
But the focus must shift to the post-virus recovery, and participating in the Census can help the community secure critical resources.
We need an accurate count. We must collect any federal dollars available. We can’t afford to shortchange ourselves.