'Whoa, that's not right': Georgia towns lead census appeals_flat freckle removal

MIKE SCHNEIDER·5 min read

When officials in Chester, Georgia, heard that the 2020 census had pegged their small town at 525 people, their jaws dropped. They believed the town was almost triple that size and feared an inaccurate number could force them to make budget cuts.

“I said, ‘Whoa, that’s not right,’” City Clerk Melanie McCook said. “The first thing I thought is, ‘This is going to affect our revenues greatly.’”

Chester and two other small, rural municipalities in Georgia are the first communities in the U.S. to challenge the accuracy of their numbers from the once-a-decade head count. Successful challenges are scant, but the outcome could determine whether Chester, the city of Glennville and White County get their fair share when it comes to the distribution of $1.5 trillion in annual federal funding.

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, White County officials were stunned when the 2020 census said the county had 28,003 residents. A Census Bureau estimate from 2019 had put the county's population at 30,798. The county is home to the town of Helen, a tourist draw modeled on a Bavarian alpine village.

An analysis by the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, a nonprofit agency that provides planning help to communities in the region, said half of the county's census blocks had incorrect housing counts. Although the 2020 census put the number of homes at 13,535, it should have been 15,286, according to the analysis.

“We are concerned about long-term impacts, not qualifying for grants, not getting as many dollars as we need for our schools, those kinds of opportunities that come when the census count is used," said John Sell, director of White County’s community and economic development.

Both Glennville and Chester are home to state prisons, which became among the most difficult places to count — along with college dorms, nursing homes and military barracks — as the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S. during crucial weeks for the census in the spring of 2020. Students were sent home from campuses, and prisons and nursing homes went into lockdowns when those residents were supposed to be counted.

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