NEWORLEANS -- April 1 is just a few days away, and that's the date the U.S. Census Bureau hopes will provide a snapshot of America.
The agency is beginning a major push to make sure people fill out their forms by that date, but some people are running into a problem -- they have not received their forms yet and are having trouble getting another one. Shirley Simms has been waiting for her 10-question form all month.
'I know it's very important, and so that's whyI was very concerned about not receiving one,' she said.
After getting an initial letter that said her census form was on the way, Simms and her daughter are still waiting to get a form at their Lakefront homes.
'We got the little card that said, 'please mail your census in.' There's a number that said if you needed assistance, to call,' Simms said. 'So, I said, 'maybe if I call this number, I can get someone to send me a Census, because of course, I still have not received one.'
In order to mail out a new census form, the automated phone number asks for a 20-digit code. The problem is the only place where you can find the code is on the original census form itself. A spokesperson for the Census Bureau declined to do an on-camera interview, but said they are aware of the problem.
In the meantime, while Simms waited for her census form, she began to notice them hanging from the doors of abandoned homes in her neighborhood.
'Houses with grasses growing up, there is forms hanging on these people's doors. And I almost started to go take one, but I said, I don't know,' she said. 'I don't know if that makes a difference or not. So, I said, 'if I go take it, it still probably not going to be right.' And I'm not just going to go take something from somebody, you know.'
All of this comes as the Census Bureau plans to make a big push to get people to mail the forms back in. According to the Census Bureau, so far, nationally about 34 percent of people living in the U.S. have mailed the form back. Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes are running above the national average, at 36 and 39 percent, respectively. However, in areas hit hard by storms, the percentage falls below that, with St. Bernard and Plaquemines each averaging a 25 percent return, and in Orleans Parish, a 19 percent return.
With $400 billion in federal money at stake-- and with her neighborhood still recovering-- Simms said she understands the need to fill a census form out -- if she could only get one.
'I'm trying to do my civic duty,' she said.
The Census Bureau said if you have not received a form by April 12, you should call the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance Center at 1-866-872-6868. After April, Census workers will also begin going to homes where people have not returned completed forms.