With another decade on the horizon, the U.S. Census Bureau is cranking up efforts to get the word out about the 2010 Census locally, asking local governments to support the effort by forming committees to encourage residents to participate.

Every 10 years since 1790, the United States has set out to count the nation’s population. Among other things, a census determines the number of representatives every state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Federal and state agencies, according to the census bureau, distribute more than $400 billion a year based on population counts. Those numbers for each municipality or government district drive federal and state funding – from money for social service agencies and programs for seniors, to local shares of motor fuel taxes, which help pave roadways.

Last week, Riverside kicked off its census campaign with a meeting of representatives from a variety of groups, including the village board and village management, township government, local school districts, the LaGrange Area League of Women Voters, the Riverside chapter of the American Association of University Women, the Riverside Junior Woman’s Charity, the Riverside Public Library and local newspapers.

Village Trustee Jean Sussman is the chairwoman of the Riverside census committee.

“The census is important on two levels,” Sussman said. “On a governmental level, it’s important so we have the representation we need in Congress. And it’s important, with this economy, because it helps determine federal, state and county dollars coming into us.

“It’s our responsibility as a community to have an accurate head count to take advantage of the dollars out there.”

The last time Riverside participated in the census, back in 2000, the village’s population was pegged at 8,885. That’s the number that has been used by federal and state government to determine funding levels.

The trouble, said Interim Village Manager Robin Weaver, is that 20 percent of the village’s households didn’t participate in the census. So there’s no way to know just how many people were not counted 10 years ago and how that might have affected funding levels.

Non-participation may have also cost Illinois a seat in the House of Representatives. After the 2000 census, the state lost a seat in Congress because of declining population relative to other states.

Nina Nowaczyk, a partnership specialist for the Chicago Regional Census Center, said last week that she understands there’s reluctance on the part of some who see the census as intrusive.

“There are lots of reasons why people don’t want to fill out the form,” Nowaczyk said.

Some people believe that filling out the form will get them on a jury duty list or affect their Social Security or lead to identity theft. She’s even been told by some that they’re behind on student loan payments and don’t want the government to know where they are.

“If the public understood the security of the information, they’d be more comfortable,” Nowaczyk said.

Starting in March, each household will receive a census packet in the mail. The form has been streamlined and does not include questions about household income. In all, there are 10 questions to fill out, plus separate questions for every person living in the household.

Forms cannot be downloaded from the Internet or sent to the Census Bureau via e-mail. Forms will arrive in the U.S. mail and, for Illinois residents, must be sent to a processing center in Indiana.

According to Nowaczyk, the census bureau encrypts every name that’s processed and that information remains encrypted for 72 years. After 72 years, each file is released to the National Archive for genealogical purposes.

That’s the reason you can get census information for people counted, for example, in 1930, but you can’t get the info from 1940 or later, Nowaczyk said.

“We’re the only bureau who can’t release information to any other agency,” Nowaczyk said. “It’s can’t be court ordered or released to the public sector.”

In short, what the census bureau wants are numbers – “how many people and what are their ages and race, and if they own or rent,” Nowaczyk said.

While the end of 2010 is a long way away, Nowaczyk said that the bureau has less than a year to get most of its work done.

If households haven’t by mid-April returned the form they get in March, they’ll get another one.

If that form’s not returned, a census worker – called an enumerator – will come to the house. Repeatedly, if necessary. Certified census employees are the only ones who can help people in filling out the forms and will visit nursing homes, for example, to assist residents there.

On Dec. 10, 2010, the census bureau will deliver the numbers to the president.

“There’s no guarantee you’re going to hit the same number again,” Nowaczyk said. “You start from zero in 2010. Whatever the number is we count, that’s the number you’re stuck with for the next 10 years.”

The key, said Nowaczyk, is for municipalities to persuade residents to participate.

“If there’s apathy toward it, you have to educate residents toward the benefits,” Nowaczyk said.