With the 2020 decennial federal census coming down the homestretch, Lawton is dragging behind, according to a report presented Tuesday to the Lawton City Council.
Not only is Lawton behind the state average, it also trails the national average.
“Essentially we are doing the complete count for the census right now,” said Community Relations Director Tiffany Martinez Vrska. “This started officially last fall, and then in the springtime the mailers went out to our community. As of today, Lawton is behind the county, state and national count.”
According to Vrska, 54.9% of the census in Lawton has been completed. Comanche County is slightly better at 56.3%.
However, Lawton and Comanche County trail the state average, which is 58.8%, and the national average of 64.4%.
Vrska said not getting a more complete census count is going to cost the city and county millions of dollars during the next decade.
“If our county is behind by even 5%, we could lose out on more than $247 million over the next 10 years,” she said. “As you’re well aware, the census is only taken every 10 years. If we mess this up, we’re going to be losing out on a lot of funds.”
Vrska said $247 million that is at risk could be used in a variety of areas throughout the county.
“We really need to get those numbers up, which is why we’ve put together a marketing plan with our community partners to make a push for the census to make sure that we get our community counted,” Vrska said, “so that we can fund things like highway and road improvement projects, mental health services, the school lunch program, SNAP benefits, and TANF [temporary assistance to needy families]. There are 132 federal programs that receive funding and they’re essentially all localized here.”
In an attempt to get residents to understand the significance of the census and what it can do for communities, Lawton will host Lawton Census Week from Aug. 30 through Sept. 5.
“We’ve partnered with churches, nonprofits, various agencies, to try to get in front of the demographic that’s traditionally undercounted, which is lower income, minority groups, non-English speakers, and the elderly,” Vrska said. “We’ve been doing all we can to reach them, but we need some additional support so that we can make this venture a success.”
Vrska asked the council to approve the $10,000 budget she has put together for Lawton Census Week.
However, Ward 5 Councilman Allan Hampton didn’t believe that was enough money.
“I think it’s vital, not just for this year but for the next 10 years, that we get this funding,” Hampton said. “That’s a fairly tight budget. I would like to add another $10,000 to that budget. I think it’s important for you guys to have enough money to get this taken care of.”
Hampton made a motion for the council to approve up to $20,000 for the Census Week budget.
The City Council voted 8-0 to approve the request for the Lawton Census Week project.