WALLA WALLA - If there is anything Hector Maldonado would like people to understand about the upcoming census, it is three key things.
"It's easy, it's safe and it's important," Maldonado told community leaders Wednesday who gathered for an information session and luncheon at St. Patrick Catholic Church.
Maldonado is a U.S. Census Bureau employee based in Seattle. He was in Walla Walla to help answer questions with the goal of getting community leaders to share the information with residents.
Attendees included leaders from area schools and colleges, law enforcement, social services and community outreach groups.
The census is a process conducted every 10 years to account for every person living in the U.S. The first census was done in 1790. The 2010 U.S. Census officially launches April 1, but questionnaires should go out to area residents starting next week. Some people have already received a letter informing them of the upcoming census.
Organizers of Wednesday's session stressed the importance of getting all residents to complete a survey. Federal funding for programs ranging from education to social services are administered to states and local governments based off census data. And a more accurate count, meaning the highest number of people accounted, equals more federal funding, coordinators said.
To highlight the "easy" part of the census, Maldonado pointed out that this year the census is just 10 questions, and should take about 10 minutes to complete.
The goal of the census is to account for everybody, including college students, homeless residents and people living here illegally.
In Walla Walla, most residents will fill out and turn in their census forms by mail.
"If you don't mail it back, that's when we start knocking on your door," Maldonado said.
Attendees of the session learned that a census worker who does knock on your door will not ask to come inside. And the census does not ask residents to provide Social Security numbers.
If someone calls your home claiming to be a census worker, and asks for your Social Security number, feel free to hang up, said Noemi Ortega, partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau in Kennewick.
Census workers will need people's names and ages, however. And a form filled out without a name will result in a follow-up visit or phone call.
On ethnicity and race, people will be asked to identify as Hispanic or not Hispanic, and then choose their race. People can also choose more than one category, such as black and white, when identifying race.
"It's self-identification," Ortega said about the race question, which can draw confusion between ethnicity and nationality. "Race is an outside description of you."
Maldonado also stressed that people should feel safe providing their information, even if it pertains to their citizenship status. No information is shared, and rumors that undocumented residents could face deportation are not true, he said.
"I can honestly say we will not share our data with anyone," Maldonado said.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.
The Census launches April 1 with the start of the official count. It ends April 19, although outreach will continue through July to ensure all people are accounted.
The U.S. Census is also currently hiring. To enquire about employment opportunities, call 1-866-861-2010.
For more information, go to www.census.gov.