Local Politics

Mailing signals census is coming

Posted March 9, 2010 5:15 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2010 6:17 p.m. EST

— When she received a letter from the U.S. Census in the mail on Monday, Jean Harless was ready to fill out the form and be counted. She was shocked when she opened the envelope. Instead of the form, she found a letter informing her that the real form would be coming soon.

Letters like the one Harless received were sent to 120 million households. The government has spent about $85 million on "pre-letters" in advance of the official census forms and reminders that will be sent out after the forms have been sent, officials said.

Harless believes the pre-letter she received is a waste especially during these tough economic times.

The population count, conducted every 10 years, is used to distribute seats in the House of Representatives and more than $400 billion in federal aid. The questions on the form ask about gender, race, family composition and housing, as well for an address and telephone number.

Bill Baiocchi, who heads the Raleigh census office, said officials expect to see a significant savings by sending an advance notice before the form and a reminder to mail it back after you get it.

“It’s a rule of thumb in the marketing purposes these days that if you send a reminder card you’re gonna increase your response rate dramatically and a pre-letter is even better,” Baiocchi said.

Reaction to the pre-letter was mixed in Raleigh.

“What price do you pay for counting everyone? They want to make sure everyone has a voice,” Belinda Preacher said Tuesday.

Kathleen Mujais described the letters as “kind of dumb,” but conceded that “if that’s what they have to do, that’s what they have to do.”

Harless doesn’t agree with the government spending money on pre-letters.

“There’s no need for my taxpayer dollars to go for something like that,” she said.

U.S. Census forms are expected to arrive in the mail next week.

Census officials say if people don't respond within two to three weeks, a reminder will be mailed to them.

Census workers will start knocking on doors of those who fail to return the form by the end of April.