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Talking Points: U.S. census can make an impact on our lives in many ways so get on board with it

The census isn't something most of us think about a lot. It's tough enough to keep yesterday, today and tomorrow at the top of our minds. The census pops up once every 10 years and usually for just as long as it takes us to fill out the short form. That gives us 3,649 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes to not be concerned with the practice of counting America.

Examine the situation a little closer, however, and you'll find that those 15 minutes and that short form can have a dramatic impact on our lives.

Data gathered through the census is voluminous, and millions of people each year help fill in information gaps by taking the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

The census is a lot different today than when it was conceived in 1790. Today's census gathers more information about Americans and that becomes a tool that helps an estimated yearly total of between $300 billion and $400 billion in federal and state funding get to the people who need it most.

Dozens of grants are allocated based on census data. The funding targets include health and nutrition programs, education, the environment and transportation.

Food programs for children and adults, school lunch and breakfast programs and WIC are funded based on census information.

We've all heard about adult education, vocational education and rehabilitation, special education and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program are among those that receive funding based on census data.

The list goes on: safe water and drinking water programs, foster care, Head Start, programs for aging, airport improvements, transit improvements, community development grants. Hospitals, job training programs, senior centers, public works and emergency services. All receive at least partial funding through information gathered through the census.

The upcoming 2010 census will be especially important for Minnesotans. Because the state's population growth is stagnant, it's possible that in 2012 it could lose one of its eight seats in Congress, the representation of which is based on population. It's interesting to note that should the state lose a seat, it's believed that 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann's seat would be the most vulnerable. Bachmann earlier this year indicated she wouldn't fill out her census form and railed against it as a tool of government intrusion.

U.S. law states you have to fill out a census form, although it's said no one has ever been fined or faced prosecution for failing to do so. A form will be mailed to households in March 2010, and National Census Day is April 1, which is the date by which the Census Bureau is encouraging households to return their completed form. Those who do not complete their forms can expect at least one visit from a census taker.

By December 2010, the census data is sent to the president to be validated, and in March 2011, redistricting information is sent to the states.

In this area, complying with the census makes sense. Our rural areas are losing population and need to have everyone counted. In Morris, "snowbirds" are being encouraged to fill out their forms listing their Minnesota household. Same with college students, particularly those living off-campus.

The census also can provide temporary jobs. Testing for census jobs is Jan. 5, Jan. 13 and Jan. 22 in Morris. For more information, call 1-866-861-2010.