As of May 10, South Carolina’s self-response rate for the 2020 U.S. Census was 52.4%. The national rate was 58.6%; the Palmetto State ranks an abysmal 39 out of 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

All of South Carolina’s neighbors rank higher: Alabama has a 56.7% response rate, Florida is 56.2%, Georgia and North Carolina have 54.7% and Mississippi is at 54.1%.

The census, which can be finished online in less than five minutes or completed on paper and returned by mail just as quickly, determines where billions of dollars in federal funds will go in the next 10 years.

Beaufort County – with its 198,000 residents – hasn’t helped matters at all. Out of the Palmetto State’s 46 counties, this county ranks 34th. In ranking the state’s 271 municipalities, Bluffton is ranked at 30, Beaufort at 131, and Hilton Head Island at 181.

Why is it so important for all residents to complete the census?

The results determine the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is limited to 435 representatives. Because South Carolina’s population increased from 2000 to 2010 and others lost residents, the state gained a seat in the House, and now has seven representatives. That, then, determines the state’s representation in the U.S. Electoral College – currently nine members.

Following the 2010 Census, South Carolina received nearly $8.3 billion out of $630 billion dollars from Federal Aid to States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report issued in September 2011.

That money was further allocated by the state to local communities for vital services such as education at all levels – approx. $1,777 billion; healthcare, $4,847,866,000; roads and bridges, $778,714,000; the environment, $87 million; emergencies, $8,254,000; and veterans, $19,582,000.

In 2010, the census bureau reported that there were 4,625,381 residents in South Carolina. The population estimate is 5,148,714 as of July 2019, an 11 percent increase of half a million people.

The only way for this state to get a larger share of the federal funds to shore up such valuable necessities as highways, national parks, veterans’ affairs, military installations, elementary schools, universities, libraries, housing, agriculture, and emergency services and hospitals – the agencies that have become critical lifelines in recent months – is to increase the number of resident responses. Anyone in a household can visit and fill in the survey.

Households that have not completed a survey will eventually be visited by a badge-wearing census taker later this year, once protocols related to COVID-19 are ironed out.

Your response matters. Avoid an unnecessary visitor. Take the survey.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.