It’s officially time for the census.

Today is the day residents should start receiving invitations to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census, said Carol Hector-Harris, media specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Office.

The invitations were expected to arrive between Thursday, March 12, and Friday, March 20, according to the bureau.

For the first time, residents will have the option to fill out the census form online, in addition to the options of responding via phone and mail, Hector-Harris said.

Smartphones may be used for the online option, she said.

“We’re hoping that people will respond online because, of course, that’s quicker,” she said.

Residents should expect to receive invitations over the next few weeks, Hector-Harris said.

Most people will receive the invitation only, which will include information about the phone number and website associated with the census form, along with a unique identification number to access the form, she said. People also may access forms using their residential address, she said.

Only one person from each household needs to complete the census form, Hector-Harris said. That person may complete it for everyone who is staying at the home as of April 1, Census Day, she said.

Families should not count children who are away at college or loved ones serving in the military, living at a nursing home or incarcerated in a jail or a prison detention facility as of April 1, or they could be counted twice, Hector-Harris said.

“Leave these people off your questionnaire,” she said.

The forms take about 10 minutes to complete, Hector-Harris said.

Although the form requires a phone number in case a census employee needs to follow up with someone about his or her response, she said, residents should be aware of scammers claiming to be with the U.S. Census Bureau who might ask for Social Security numbers, bank-account information or donations.

“We don’t do any of that – not ever,” she said.

Much is riding on getting a complete count of residents Hector-Harris said.

One of those factors is funding.

Every year, $675 billion in federal dollars is distributed to states based on their populations, Hector-Harris said. People who are not represented in census counts represent dollars not received by states, she said.

In addition, state representation in Congress is based on population, Hector-Harris said. If Ohio is undercounted, it could lose a seat, she said.

“We don’t want to lose a seat,” she said.

Counting children in the census also is vital because, in addition to funding, children’s hospitals and day care facilities might use census data to understand how many people might need their services, Hector-Harris said.

In the 2010 census, more than a million children were not counted, she said.

“It is huge when we don’t count everyone,” she said.

Those who do not complete the initial forms will begin getting reminders starting next month, Hector-Harris said.

By early May, a census employee will visit homes of those who have not responded to arrange a time to sit down and complete the forms, she said.

From a community perspective, participation in the 2020 census is important for many reasons, said New Albany City Manager Joseph Stefanov.

Like Hector-Harris, Stefanov highlighted the effects the results have on the number of representatives the state gets in Congress, as well as federal funding received by communities across the country.

“Census results have a wide range of influence, from infrastructure to education to fire service,” Stefanov said. “We would encourage all residents to do their part in ensuring an accurate count in 2020.”