Some $400 billion in federal spending is allocated every year in whole or in part on the basis of population totals drawn from the census. Federal aid for maintaining highways, supporting hospitals, assisting schools and keeping police and firefighters on the street depends on census numbers.

Over the past couple of week, households across the region have started receiving 2010 census forms in the mail and it's important to understand how much it pays all of us to stand up and be counted.


The Constitution mandates the national enumeration every 10 years to determine each state’s representation in Congress – and thus its political clout.


But the importance of the census goes far beyond that. Some $400 billion in federal spending is allocated every year in whole or in part on the basis of population totals drawn from the census. Federal aid for maintaining highways, supporting hospitals, assisting schools and keeping police and firefighters on the street depends on census numbers.


“It’s an opportunity to help your community in just 10 minutes,” Randolph Town Clerk Brian Howard said recently. “You don’t realize on a day-to-day basis how important that data is. Businesses, when they look to locate in the town, review census data.”


It’s so important, officials in many communities have launched campaigns to make sure residents participate.


Howard said that, in addition to organizing a door-to-door promotional campaign, he is working with schools, houses of worship and civic groups to increase census awareness.


And this time it’s even easier for communities with large immigrant populations, such as Randolph and Quincy.


For the first time, the bureau is sending out 13 million bilingual English-Spanish forms and has forms available in Chinese, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese, as well as instructions in 59 languages.


Howard said signs in several languages alerting residents to the upcoming census are posted at locations around Randolph.


Many organizations are also helping to make the process easier. Quincy Medical Center is offering weekly sessions to help residents fill out census questionnaires. Sessions will be held this Friday and next from 9 to 11 a.m. and on April 9 and 16 from 1 to 3 p.m.


People concerned about the reach of “big government” will find the basic census questionnaire neither complicated nor intrusive. It contains just 10 questions, asking the name, age, date of birth, sex, race (or Hispanic origin) and relationship of everyone living in your house and whether you own or rent your home.


About one in six households will get the Census Bureau’s “long form,” which includes more questions about housing, ethnicity, jobs and other topics. As with the short form, none of the individual information collected by the Census Bureau is shared with any other government agency — not the IRS, not immigration, nobody.


You’ll be asked for your phone number in case some of the information isn’t clear, but not your e-mail or Social Security number. That’s less information than most credit card applications demand.


If you need more motivation, consider this: Census workers only come to your house if you fail to return the form or a follow-up questionnaire.


Blowing off or boycotting the census for some imagined principle serves no purpose.


An undercount only hurts the communities that come up short with reduced political representation and federal support.


The Patriot Ledger