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Rural Alaska

Census workers restart outreach in western Aleutians, where response has been low so far

Unalaska on Aug. 31, 2012. (Photo by Loren Holmes / ADN)

UNALASKA - U.S. census workers restarted distribution of census taking material in the western Aleutian Islands after a two-month pause resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Census Bureau delayed operations and stopped sending out census takers in Unalaska and the surrounding area to prioritize safety, Alaska's Energy Desk reported Sunday.

Berett Wilber, communications director for the Alaska Counts census education initiative, said 4.9% of the Aleutians West Census Area had responded as of last week.

But Wilber expects the number to rise as census forms begin arriving on doorsteps and in mailboxes again. Residents have until Oct. 31 to respond.

"An accurate count is important because federal and state funding is allocated to communities using this data," Unalaska City Manager Erin Reinders said.

Data collected by the population count every 10 years is used to determine the amount of funding distributed by the federal government.

In fiscal year 2016, Alaska received $3.19 billion through 55 federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 census count.

“The Legislature just approved $1.5 billion in CARES Act funding for the State of Alaska to deal with the coronavirus. And that’s a big deal,” Wilber said. “But the census actually brings in $3.2 billion to Alaska every year, for the next 10 years. So over the next 10 years, that’s more than $30 billion.”

Charlene Shaishnikoff, deputy administrator for the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, said the tribe began reaching out to its membership of more than 800 earlier this year to promote the census.

“I think in the past there wasn’t a good count of (Alaska Natives),” Shaishnikoff said. “And for funding purposes, it’s so important for Alaska Native people to be counted and to make sure they put in the tribe they are enrolled in.”

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