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Lanai sees boost in census response

Greater participation is needed in East Maui, on Molokai

After census materials delayed by the pandemic finally made it to Lanai residents’ doors, response rates on the island shot up by more than 30 percentage points, according the county.

“Molokai, Lanai and Hana, the places that have a lot of residents who use post office boxes and have rural addresses, did not receive their packets until kind of late in the process, or at least later than planned, as COVID had delayed people going out into the field to deliver those packets,” said Bill Snipes, a community liaison for the census in the mayor’s office. “Once that was done in May, we saw just a fantastic raise on Lanai.”

Snipes said a lot of the credit was due to the Lanai Community Health Center and Pulama Lanai, who conducted widespread outreach and encouraged people to fill out the census. Lanai went from a 17.5 percent response rate on June 1 to 50.1 percent by the end of the month.

“It was so quick and such a high rise, that I literally thought it was a mistake,” Snipes said.

So far, 49.1 percent of all households in Maui County have responded to the U.S. census, matching the 2010 response rate and just shy of the county’s record of 50 percent set in 2000, Snipes said.

He said results have been mixed, with some communities responding more than others. Central Maui, for example, is exceeding its 2010 response rates, and the Wailuku area near the county building is doing the best on Maui with a 73 percent response rate, according to Census Bureau data as of Thursday. Upcountry is also above the county average, with Pukalani at 65.9 percent.

Lanai has now reached 54.3 percent, while Molokai is averaging 26.8 percent (22.7 percent from Kualapuu to the west end and 30.8 percent from Kaunakakai to the east end) and East Maui, one of the the largest census tracts on island stretching from Huelo to Hana and around to Kahikinui, is at 22.7 percent.

“In particular, we urge residents of Molokai, Hana, Huelo and Paia who have not yet completed their census questionnaire to please do so,” Snipes said. “So far, the response rates in those areas are significantly below 2010 levels.”

Snipes added that “enumerators,” the workers who go door to door to help people fill out the census, went out into the field Thursday, and he’s working with the Hawaii Community Foundation to do a promotional event in Kaunakakai and Hana that “hopefully generates some attention and enthusiasm” for filling out the census.

Snipes said the county could miss out on a lot of money if more people don’t respond in a time when funding is sorely needed.

“Every response results in an additional $2,500 being distributed to our state from federal funds,” he said. “That money helps to fund programs for our keiki, kupuna and indigent, including MEO, Head Start, Medicare and Section 8 public housing. Failing to respond, however, leaves a lot of money on the table that would otherwise have benefited residents of Maui, Lanai and Molokai, especially this year given the damage caused by COVID-19.”

Across the U.S., nearly 93 million households have responded, a rate of 62.8 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Hawaii ranked 36th amongst all states with 58.9 percent, with Honolulu County leading the way at 64.7 percent, followed by Kauai County at 50.2 percent, Maui County at 49.1 percent, Hawaii County at 45.5 percent and Kalawao County at 21 percent.

This year is the first time people have been allowed to take the census online, and Snipes said that’s become the most popular response route so far.

Residents can complete the census online at 2020census.gov, by mailing in the hard copy sent to their homes or by calling (844) 330-2020. Those who prefer to speak to someone in person will have a census taker with government credentials coming to their door with electronic tablets to help people fill out the forms.

Census takers must wear masks and follow local public health guidelines, according to the Census Bureau. To verify that someone is a census taker, make sure that they have a valid ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. Census workers may also carry Census Bureau bags and other equipment with the bureau’s logo. Residents can also verify their identities by calling their regional census center; the Los Angeles Regional Census Center covers Hawaii and can be reached at (213) 314-6500.

Snipes said that the door-to-door outreach will likely continue through October, though there’s talk at the federal level of shortening the time period, which he worried would make it tough on census takers and lead to a possible undercounting of residents.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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