This week, every household in our area as well as the rest of the U.S., totaling about 120 million households, will be receiving a 2010 Census questionnaire form in the mail.

Every household's participation in the U.S. Census is required by law for everyone living in the United States. The public is encouraged to promptly complete and mail back their 2010 Census forms once they are delivered this week.

The census is a count done every 10 years of everyone living in the United States and is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Census data is used to apportion congressional seats to states, as well as to distribute $400 billion dollars in federal funds to tribal, state and local governments. It includes funding for roads, schools, health care and other critical programs each year and to make decisions about what community services to provide. The 2010 Census form will be one of the shortest in U.S. history, consisting of only about 10 questions per person, taking about 10 minutes to complete. Strict confidentiality laws protect the respondents and the information they provide.

The census mailing package includes a cover letter, the 2010 Census form, and a postage-paid return envelope. The 10 questions are basic and should take about 10 minutes to complete. The 2010 Census asks the following questions: The number of people living in the residence, any additional people that might be living there as of April 1, 2010, whether the residence is owned or rented, telephone number (in the rare case that the Census Bureau has follow-up questions), name, sex, age and date of birth, whether of Hispanic origin, race, and whether that person sometimes lives somewhere else.

All census responses are confidential and are protected by law, and not shared with anyone. The Census Bureau takes extreme measures to protect the identity of individuals and businesses. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents' individually identifiable answers with anyone, including tribal housing authorities, other federal agencies and law enforcement entities.

Some local government officials stressed the importance of filling out and mailing back the census questionnaire. Tamaqua Mayor Christian Morrison said during last night's borough council meeting, "In 2000, the Tamaqua count was approximately 7,200, while the estimated count for 2008 was approximately 6,800 and I think we all believe there are a lot more people than that in Tamaqua, and the key is to get everybody to fill out their form.

"Tamaqua has a lot of apartment complexes and it will be harder to get to those people," Morrison added. "Anyway we can get this count completed will benefit us, whether it be fireman's relief fund, CDBG money, grant money, county funding, and so on. I truly believe our count is truly above 7,000 and probably close to 7,500. It is just a matter of finding everybody and having them fill out the form."

Tamaqua Borough Council President Micah Gursky and borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt both stressed the vast amount of benefits that result from people sending in their forms, which also include paving streets, firefighting equipment, park improvements and more.

It will cost an average of $57 to send a census taker door-to-door to follow up with each household that fails to return a completed questionnaire in a timely manner. Because so many people don't return the questionnaires, door-to-door follow-ups from May to July will require hiring about 650,000 census workers.

The Census Bureau recently estimated that if every household completed and mailed back its census form, taxpayers could reduce the cost of taking the census by $1.5 billion.

According to the 2010 Census Web site, starting March 22, visitors to www.2010.census.gov will be able to track how well their communities are participating in the census on a daily basis. Communities will even be able to embed a Web-based tool on their own Web sites that automatically update the daily rates.

An interactive map is now online that allows visitors to find out how well their communities did in the 2000 Census. The Census Bureau is challenging all communities to improve their 2000 mail participation rates in 2010.

The only civic event that includes every person in the country, the census is the basis for America's representative democracy, ensuring that Congress is fairly reapportioned every 10 years between the states. Census counts are also used to redraw state and local legislative boundaries so that political representation is fairly distributed across their changing populations.

Census Day, April 1, is the official reference day of the population count and is used as a reminding reference point for some to make sure they mail their forms.

As America has grown and become more complex and more diverse, it has become more challenging over the decades to get a complete count of the population. The 2010 Census faces special challenges during the current economic downturn, including the housing crisis which has resulted in higher rates of vacant housing that must be visited to ensure a complete count.

The U.S. Census Bureau will be staffing more than 30,000 Questionnaire Assistance Centers around the country where people can get help with their forms in multiple languages. There are 20 assistance centers opened in Carbon county, including Tamaqua and McAdoo. Questionnaire Assistance Centers, throughout our area, like the Tamaqua Borough hall, can also be found on www.2010.census.gov, or by calling 866-872-6868.

If you don't receive a questionnaire by March 19, you can acquire a "Be Counted" questionnaire by calling 866-872-6868 or by visiting one of the over 20 Questionnaire Assistance Centers located around our area.

State Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-124 Berks/Schuylkill) stated via e-mail correspondence: "The information collected during the census impacts everything from how many seats Pennsylvania occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives to our share of billions of dollars in federal funding. If we do not provide an accurate count of local residents, our area may not receive all that we are entitled to."

The first census took place in 1790, counting nearly 4 million people. Our country has had a decennial census 23 times since then. This year, the census expects to count more than 300 million people, most of those by mail response.

President Obama said it best at the end of his televised U.S. Census public service announcement when he said, "We can't move forward until you mail it back."