WELLSBORO — The 2020 U.S. Census is less than nine months away, and preparations are underway.

Michael Burger made several visits in Tioga County last Thursday on his way to meeting with the Tioga County commissioners. The goal is to get as accurate a count as possible and part of that is overcoming distrust.

One in four people will not complete the census in 2020, said Burger. That affects two things: the region’s representation in Congress and its share of $675 billion annually in federal funding.

The census is used to determine the make-up of U.S. House of Representatives. Since 1913, that number has remained level at 435. While each state has two U.S. senators, representatives are apportioned by population from one up to 53. Pennsylvania has 18.

An inaccurate count could affect reapportionment of those representatives following the census.

Additionally, for each person who is not included in the census, the county will lose $2,000 per year for the next 10 years, he said. Those data and funds are used for decision making at all levels of government including transportation, housing assistance, public education, facilities for people with disabilities, the elderly and children; SNAP, Children’s health IP, housing authority and more.

“If we don’t get it right, we don’t get our fair share,” said commissioner Erick Coolidge.

Many people distrust the census, acknowledged Burger, often from a lack of understanding of its importance. His goal is to reach out, educate people and reduce or eliminate that sentiment.

Data collected is only used by the Census Bureau for the next 72 years. Any census worker caught divulging information is liable for a $250,000 fine and five years incarceration, said Burger.

This year’s census will be familiar, yet offer additional ways to respond.

In February 2020, everyone will receive in the mail a four- by six-inch card introductory reminder of the upcoming census.

Then in early March, every household will receive the perforated, security sealed census form in the mail. Some institutions, such as prisons, nursing homes, armed forces and universities, will submit aggregate data.

Each household form will contain a unique one-time cipher that is used when submitting the final census form.

Households can submit one of three ways: the traditional, fill-in-the-bubble form returned by mail, over the telephone or through the internet. The cipher is included however the census form is completed, and cancels out the other two methods, said Burger.

April 1 is the official census day. If the form is not returned, the enumerators will “come knocking” in May and June, said Burger. Every enumerator is credentialed by the FBI, have a background check and have an ID badge.

To assist in getting the word out and securing an accurate count, the county is forming a Complete Count Committee. The committee will be responsible for raising awareness, educating the public and helping secure an accurate count. The volunteers serving on it will include elected officials, representatives from education, religion, business and community groups.

More details will be released next week on how you can get involved with the county’s Complete County Committe.