One significant impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing measures being employed to stop it is that lots of folks have plenty of time on their hands.

By all means try to find a silver lining in this dark time by making the most of free time at home, whether it’s by getting long-delayed work done around the house or enjoying some quiet quality time with family.

With so many people having so much free time, this is an excellent opportunity to do your civic duty and answer the 2020 U.S. census.

In truth, free time shouldn’t even be much of an issue when it comes to the census. It’s a short form that only takes a few minutes to fill. But since census notifications were sent out right around the time social distancing measures started taking hold, there’s really no excuse for most people to get it taken care of right now.

Answering the census is easy, and a robust response in Pennsylvania matters to everyone in the state.

Every 10 years the government holds a census to count every resident of the nation’s states and territories. Those numbers are used to determine the size of each state’s delegation in the House of Representatives, which is reapportioned after each census. The states with the most population get the most representation.

Pennsylvania has 18 members in its House delegation. But our state is expected to lose one seat as a result of the census. A thorough count of the people here is essential to ensuring we have the level of representation we deserve.

This subject may have once held little interest for most people, but the issue of redistricting has become a hot one in recent years, especially here in Pennsylvania. Battles over the shape and political makeup of congressional districts raged in Harrisburg over maps drawn by Republicans in 2011. It all culminated in a 2018 state Supreme Court decision that found the maps unconstitutional and had them redrawn.

Those who are concerned about this issue should care deeply about the census, no matter which side of the political aisle they occupy. The districts soon will be redrawn yet again, as they are every 10 years. The numbers and data used in that process will come from census results.

The issue here goes beyond politics. Gov. Tom Wolf said the state receives $26.8 billion annually for federally funded programs based on the census numbers. That adds up to about $2,000 per state resident per year. Millions of Pennsylvania residents rely on programs such as LIHEAP for heating aid, as well as SNAP to help cover food expenses and CHIP and Medicaid for health care. Distribution of funds for those programs is determined by census data.

Among those most at risk are children and those who live in rural areas. Officials indicate the population there was undercounted in the last two censuses.

The questions are simple and mostly relate to how many people live in each household and information on their age, sex, ethnic background and race for statistical purposes. Having this information helps guide government decision-making on a wide variety of issues and programs.

Many undoubtedly remember that there was a debate and legal dispute over the proposed inclusion of a citizenship question in this year’s census. Please note that there is not one. The questions are along the same lines as usual.

The Census Bureau is prohibited by law from releasing any identifiable information about respondents, even to law enforcement agencies. Answers cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court. The answers are used only to produce statistics.

Keep in mind that the census is mandated by the Constitution, and participation by every American household is required by law. While most people likely will take advantage of the convenience of filling out the form online, the U.S. Census Bureau offers mail and phone options as well.

So take a few minutes to complete this simple task and help your community and country. It’s a quick and painless way to show some patriotism.

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