The first few Census 2010 questionnaires were hand-delivered this week to rural homes that do not receive regular mail, but the rest of America can expect forms to arrive March 15 to 17.
The postal service will deliver questionnaires to about 120 million households. Residents are asked to complete and mail back their forms by April 1.
The once-a-decade census has just 10 questions about who lives in each home, their age, sex and race.
Many homes in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties automatically will receive bilingual questionnaires in English and Spanish. Forms in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian are available on request.
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Completing the form is required by law. Homes that don't mail back finished forms will be contacted — repeatedly — by census takers until all answers are provided.
For the 2000 census, about 74 percent of Stanislaus homes mailed back questionnaires on time, compared with a 72 percent nationwide average.
"It costs us just 42 cents in a postage-paid envelope when households mail back their Census 2010 forms," Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves said. "The Census Bureau will spend about $25 per person if we have to go out and knock on the doors of households that don't mail them back."
Mailing back the forms will save taxpayers money because it reduces the number of census takers that must go door-to-door to follow up with households that fail to complete the questionnaires.
About 1,600 census workers will be hired in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties from late April through July to track down answers. Hiring for those jobs began last year.
There are concerns about Northern San Joaquin Valley census returns this year because the region's foreclosure crisis has displaced so many people.
The challenge for census takers will be to make sure everyone gets counted, including those who have moved in with friends or family members and those illegally living in foreclosed homes.
People who do not receive census forms in the mail can pick up blank forms from March 19 through April 19 at questionnaire assistance centers and informational sites around Stanislaus County.
All census responses are confidential. Answers are protected by law and cannot be shared with anyone.
"With only 10 questions, the 2010 census should only take about 10 minutes to complete," Groves said.
The census data will be used to apportion congressional seats to states, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to tribal, state and local governments each year and to make decisions about what community services to provide.
To help promote census participation, Stanislaus County's government staff has produced a video that will run numerous times this month on Comcast Channel 7 and Charter Channel 19. It also can be viewed at www.stancounty.com/mytv.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.