By BECKY BOHRER (AP) – 6 hours ago
NEW ORLEANS — Census forms will be hand-delivered in the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas affected by the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita to get the most accurate count possible following concerns that the region could lose federal representation and funding.
The measures announced by U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves on Tuesday did not go as far as those sought by Mayor Ray Nagin and some advocacy groups to locally count potentially thousands of former residents scattered across the country who are trying to come back.
By at least one estimate, 75 percent of New Orleans’ pre-Katrina population has returned in the nearly four years since the Aug. 29, 2005, storm and levee breaches. In some neighborhoods, there remain huge swaths of empty homes.
Groves said he shared Nagin’s concerns, but “the proposal to count people where they want to be is something that would really be a massive change.”
Census rules dictate people be counted “in their abodes,” as of Census Day, he said, and Congress has not changed the law to reflect situations like refugees of Katrina and other disasters, missionaries spending time overseas or noncitizens being included in the count.
“So we have to follow the law,” Groves said. “In the 2010 Census, we’ll count people where they usually live.”
Census workers in the region are expected to hand-deliver an estimated 300,000 questionnaires to homes in 11 south Louisiana parishes affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Additional hand deliveries are expected in parts of Mississippi’s Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, also affected by the 2005 storms, and parts of Galveston Island, Texas, which was hit by Hurricane Ike last summer, said Jeff Behler, deputy regional director of the census’ Dallas office.
Census officials said 2,400 workers would be hired in the New Orleans-area office, but they could not immediately provide a total cost for hand-delivering forms. They said hand deliveries are sometimes used in very rural parts of the country and on some tribal lands.
Nagin repeated his call Tuesday to include former residents who moved away from the city and are working to come back, saying an accurate count is “essential” for the future of the region and providing needed services to displaced residents when they return.
“We’re looking forward to a good count, as high as we can possibly get it,” Nagin said.
There’s a lot at stake: the 10-year count, which starts with surveys going out in March, will help decide congressional representation and distribution of at least $400 billion a year in federal funds across the country.