In 2017, the federal government distributed $1.5 trillion through 55 federal spending programs nationwide, based on data from the 2010 Census. South Carolina received $23,156,751,000.

“According to South Carolina Census ’20 (the state’s census website), everyone that fills out the census on the average is valued at about $3,000 [per person] in federal money that comes into the state and can be distributed to your town,” said Town of Bluffton spokesperson Debbie Szpanka. “If 100 people don’t fill it out, over 10 years that is $3 million in federal funds that South Carolina does not get, and therefore Bluffton doesn’t get [its portion of funding] either.”

With a response rate of 63.3% of households, Bluffton is just below the national average of 64.4%. Beaufort County has a lower overall response rate of 48.3% response. The state ranks 44th.

For whatever reason, county residents are failing their neighbors by not taking five minutes to either go online or to fill in the mail-in 2020 Census form. The deadline is Sept. 30 – moved up from the end of October. State and local officials are concerned that funds that could go to improve the quality of life for their constituents will go to other states.

“We hear all the time how much our open spaces, parks and amenities mean to the quality of life of our residents,” Mayor Lisa Sulka said in a recent weekly newsletter. “We need our residents to help us right now so the town can continue to provide community support through needed projects and programs through to the next decade.” 

Very simply, many community projects are funded through federal monies, the amount of which is determined by that community’s census response.

How do those funds and programs directly impact Bluffton?

The Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have helped fund the town’s multi-million-dollar sewer installation projects.

For example, Bluffton recently received a $320,000 grant for Phase 5 of the sewer extension in the Buck Island-Simmonsville Neighborhood, along with a sewer extension in the Posey’s Court and Jason-Able Street neighborhoods.

Bluffton also received $365,558 from state Department of Health and Environmental Control for connecting residents to the sewer main lines in the Town’s sewer projects.

The town also regularly applies for state funds from South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism for its parks and amenities such as the M.C. Riley Sports Complex, Oyster Factory Park, DuBois Park and the Calhoun Street Regional Dock. 

Households can still respond – in any language – online at, by phone at 844-330-2020, or by completing and mailing back their paper questionnaire.

Those households that have not responded will receive a visit from census takers – with CDC guidelines in place. This is the final stage of data collection for the once-a-decade population count of everyone living in the United States.

“It is more important than ever that South Carolinians complete the census. By participating in the census, you help ensure the Lowcountry gets its fair share of federal resources for schools, hospitals, housing, infrastructure, and other critical needs,” said S.C. District 1 Rep. Joe Cunningham. “Right now, South Carolina is 44th in the nation for responding to the census, and Beaufort County is 36th in the state. We must do better.”

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