CAIRO — A new committee has been established with the purpose of increasing Grady County’s participation in the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census.

While still several months away, Cairo Mayor Booker Gainor said it’s better for preparations for the census to begin now.

“That way we aren’t overwhelmed when we actually start filling out census forms and getting everyone counted,” he said. “We’ll have a nice strategy and program to make sure that everyone is being counted.”

The county had a 75 percent response rate in the most recent census in 2010, and the Hispanic population in particular experienced lower levels of participation.

This time Grady County is aiming for a response rate somewhere between 85 and 90 percent, and Gainor said more benefits can be received if there is greater participation.

More than $675 billion is distributed each year to state and local governments using census numbers, of which Georgia receives $13 billion.

That equals slightly more than $1,300 per person, which provides an incentive for local officials to make sure as many people as possible participate.

“We are doing everything to make sure that we are trying to obtain the maximum amount of funding for our area, which helps our citizens,” Gainor said.

Another goal of the committee is to bring awareness of what the census does.

Gainor said many people think the census represents an intrusive government requesting private information with few benefits for average citizens, but that in reality its data is confidential and helps numerous programs including the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Pell Grants, Section 8 housing and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“The census is what’s able to capture those federal dollars to bring to the state level which are administered to the local level,” Gainor said. “Those counts really mean a lot, especially with our community having a 42 percent poverty rate.”

Additionally, the mayor noted that the 2010 Census led to the addition of an extra seat in Georgia’s congressional delegation to represent citizens’ interests in Washington.

Gainor announced at a recent Cairo City Council meeting that he formed the group after attending an informational meeting on the subject in Moultrie earlier that day.

So far, the mayor said the census committee consists of Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton, Grady County commission Chair LaFaye Copeland, housing authority executive director John Marria and code enforcement administrative assistant Vicky Redden.

The mayor said he is seeking more county officials and department heads to serve on the committee, including members of the board of commissioners, the school board,the Division of Family and Children Services and the City of Whigham.

“We’re trying to get more representation so that way we can get a complete, accurate and diverse count,” Gainor said.

Other goals of the committee include providing information on how to properly fill out census ballots to ensure an accurate count is taken.

A greater emphasis on electronic participation will be made during the 2020 Census, with tests showing that online self-response is the most cost-effective and accurate method of data collection.

To do this, Gainor said the committee may form a partnership with the library to provide internet access for the purpose of taking the census.

The Census Bureau will be eliminating paper and incorporating the use of handheld data collection devices, and people will be allowed to respond anytime or anywhere by phone or online.

A head count of the nation’s population is conducted every 10 years dating back to 1790, as required by the Constitution.

The census is legally mandated for the re-apportionment of Congress, and results are used for redistricting at local, state and national levels.