A1 A1
Douglas County residents are completely counted in 2020 census

All of Douglas County’s residents have been counted in the census as it comes to a close this week, an official said Wednesday.

“Douglas County was notified by the Douglasville Area Census Office that as Tuesday, the Census count for Douglas County is 100%,” said county External Affairs Director Tiffany Stewart Stanley. “We are excited to see that so many Douglas County residents fulfilled their civic duty and completed their 2020 census form. Thanks to everyone who helped make sure that Douglas County will receive the appropriate amount of federal funding over the next 10 years.”

Meanwhile, neighboring Carroll County government officials could miss out on nearly $100 million in federal funding each year because of undercounted residents in the 2020 U.S. Census.

The deadline to respond to the Census online was adjusted to 6 a.m. on Friday morning, more than two weeks ahead of the original end date later this month.

Census data determines the distribution of about $1.5 trillion of federal funding across state and local governments. The 2010 census provided $15.88 billion to Georgia based on a count of 9.6 million people statewide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.

The self-response rate in Carroll County was 65.1% as of Friday afternoon, meaning the remaining 34.9% of the county, or approximately 42,000 residents, are still undercounted.

Each person in Carroll is estimated to be equal to $2,300 in federal funds, and the county’s population is nearly 120,000. Because approximately one out of every three county residents have not yet responded to the headcount, that means the county could miss out on $96.6 million in federal dollars during the next decade.

More people have not responded to the survey than during the 2010 census, when nearly one-quarter of the populations of both Carroll and Douglas counties were not counted.

Carroll County Commission Chairman Michelle Morgan said during a leadership luncheon on Wednesday in Villa Rica it is “so important” for residents to fill out the census. She added some census tracts in the county may be undercounted because of the early suspension.

But she did not blame the ongoing coronavirus pandemic entirely for the lack of survey responses because she said some residents may not feel comfortable with filling the form out if they do not understand what it means.

“It is so important that we all get counted because of federal funding,” Morgan said. “Whether you like the federal funding or not, it’s available and Carroll County should get some of our share because we’re sending some of our taxpayers’ dollars up. It’s driving me crazy that we are sitting at around 65% when it took me about three or four minutes to do it.”

The original purpose of the census is to determine how states are apportioned seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. But in the 230 years since the first population count was conducted, the census has assumed more importance.

Like other states, Georgia leaders also uses census data to draw district maps for both the state House and Senate. These counts are also the basis for how county commission districts are drawn, and how city council wards for towns like Villa Rica, Douglasville and Carrollton are mapped.

A census undercount would mean that affected groups get less political representation and fewer federal dollars than they otherwise could.

Last month, Villa Rica Mayor Gil McDougal highlighted the importance of the census during a special called city council meeting on Sept. 29.

As of Friday, Villa Rica’s self-response rate was 69.2%, meaning 29.8% of the city’s population still needed to respond to the survey. The city’s population as of 2018 was 15,541, meaning the city could miss out on $10.7 million in federal dollars if the remaining residents do not respond.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important the Census is,” he said. “It’s not just knowing how many people live here. It’s how much money is appropriated at all levels of government and how much money we are allocated in terms of our LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) revenues. It’s very important to get accurately counted.”

Originally, the deadline to respond to the Census was Sept. 30. But U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the census would then end on Oct. 5 despite a federal judge’s ruling allowing the survey to continue until the end of this month.

But on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court let the federal administration cut the survey off more than two weeks early to allow time for Ross to send a report to the president by Dec. 31.

The justices, without explanation, blocked a federal trial court ruling that had required the decennial count to continue through the end of October, Bloomberg reported. Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

As of Monday, 99.9% of housing units had been accounted so far in the headcount, with 33.1% counted by census takers and other field data collection operations, and 66.8% of homeowners responding online, by phone or by mail.

Douglas County turns 150 today

Douglas County turns 150 years old today. The county was created by the Georgia General Assembly on Oct. 17, 1870, from part of Campbell County.

While the county had planned several big events to celebrate the sesquicentennial all year, most everything has gone virtual since the pandemic hit the area in March.

The 150th Virtual Birthday Celebration will start at 7 p.m. Saturday and can be viewed on dctv23 and on the Douglas County Happenings Facebook page. The event will feature local, state and federal officials as well as Douglas County citizens celebrating the county’s founding.

The county also held a drive-thru 150th Birthday Souvenir giveaway on Friday at the courthouse.

“It was supposed to be a big celebration,” said Diane Turner, archivist and docent at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art. “We were dressing up here — once a month we were dressing up in different decades. The county was going to put on several different things. But then COVID hit and everything was sort of squashed.”

The museum, located in the old courthouse in downtown Douglasville, has a special exhibit titled “Our Past” for the 150th Birthday celebration.

The exhibit opened at the beginning of the year and contains photographs and historic items from the county’s history.

Turner said some of the items on display include golf clubs from Louise Suggs, who was one of the founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and a baseball bat from Johnny Hill, who played for the Atlanta Crackers in the 1930s.

She said a picture of the Sweetwater Park Hotel in Lithia Springs may be the oldest item in the exhibit.

One of the more interesting pictures is of the first patient at the old Douglas County Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1948 at Fairburn Road near Grady Street. The picture shows a little boy arriving at the hospital for a tonsillectomy being welcomed by nurses, Turner said.

There is also a picture from 1896 of fifth-grade boys dressed for the annual Dude Drill. Turner said the boys are dressed in tuxedos and top hats. The Dude Drill was an entertainment skit as part of the commencement program at Douglasville College, Turner said.

There are photos of four of the county’s five courthouses and much more, Turner said.

The county’s 100th birthday was celebrated in 1970 with two days of festivities including a parade, band festival and banquet.

A Centennial football game was held at Douglas County High School — then the only high school in the county — with a special program at halftime performed by the Tiger Band.

The 100th birthday celebration also included the “longest parade in the county’s history” with at least 15 marching bands from throughout Georgia and Alabama, according to an article in the Sentinel from the time. An hours-long band festival was held at the high school.

The museum exhibit will be on display through the end of the year for those who want to get a first-hand look at some of the county’s history. Admission is free. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Turner said masks are required. And she said guided tours are offered for groups, with no more than six to a party. Parties larger than six will be broken up into multiple groups, she said.

Call the museum at 678-449-3939 for more information.

Voters continue to turn out in record numbers

As the first of three weeks of advance voting wrapped up Friday, Georgians continued to turn out in record numbers to vote early in the Nov. 3 general election.

As of Friday at noon, 1,217,277 votes had been cast in the state, including 615,993 in person and another 601,344 by mail, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

In Douglas County, 12,756 people had cast early ballots through Thursday, representing about 12% of the roughly 100,000 registered voters in the county, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That total includes 3,792 votes cast in person, 8,912 absentee ballots by mail and drop box and 52 electronic ballots.

Statewide, in person voting was up 62%, absentee voting by mail was up 732% and total turnout was up 377% compared with the first four days of advance voting in the 2016 general election, the Secretary of State’s Office reported.

Douglas County, like many other counties around the state, had planned to start with one central in-person voting site for the first week of advance voting, and add additional sites the following week.

But with heavier than usual turnout and reports of some people waiting in line Monday at the Douglas County Courthouse for seven hours, the county opened the Woodie Fite Senior Center on Tuesday and Boundary Waters Aquatics Center and Deer Lick Park on Thursday.

Dog River Library and Old Courthouse will be open for advance voting starting Monday, Oct. 19.

The courthouse, Boundary Waters, Deer Lick, Dog River and Old Courthouse will be open for advance voting Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Oct. 30. Woodie Fite is scheduled to be open Oct. 19-23 for advance voting.

Church at Chapel Hill and Atlanta West Pentecostal Church will have advance voting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 30 only.

Saturday voting will take place at the courthouse on Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Absentee ballots can be mailed in or dropped off at one of 11 secure drop boxes around the county. There are drop boxes inside and outside the courthouse, and outside at the Douglas County Government Annex, Old Courthouse, Douglas County Library, Lithia Springs Library, Dog River Library, Deer Lick Park, Boundary Waters Aquatics Center, Hunter Park and Jessie Davis Park.

All 25 polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

For more information on voting, visit celebratedouglascounty.com or call the Douglas County Elections Office at 770-920-7212.

Kemp announces plan to reform state health care

Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday introduced a health-care reform plan after the White House approved waivers to expand Medicaid coverage for Georgians.

The plan will expand coverage to adults with incomes up to 100% of the federal poverty level, which is set to $12,760 for individuals, so long as they meet requirements of working 80 hours per month in a qualifying activity, which include employment, training, education, and volunteering.

Kemp had sought waivers from the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage for uninsured Georgians under The Patients First Act, which the Legislature adopted in 2019. On Thursday, Kemp called a news conference to announce that the White House had approved two of the waivers he had sought.

The first waiver expanded the coverage to those at the poverty level. The second, aimed at serving uninsured Georgians who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to receive insurance premium subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, is to be signed in the coming days.

“Georgia Pathways and Access will provide access to healthcare insurance for thousands of hardworking Georgians and lower premiums for millions more,” said Kemp. “This bold, innovative approach will lower the uninsured rate, spur competition in the marketplace, enhance the shopping experience for consumers, and improve health outcomes.”

In Douglas County, the U.S. Census’s website reports that approximately 14.9% of residents under the age of 65 are without health insurance.

Using data from 2017, Douglas County had a rate of 14% of uninsured individuals under 65-years-old, or 17,901, according to countyhealthrankings.org, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Healthcare.gov, the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment website, will be blocked under the second waiver, and multiple enrollment portals from the state will be offered instead. Kemp said that since 2016, enrollment through the ACA portal declined by 22%, citing its difficulties.

Kemp also announced that Georgia would be launching a statewide reinsurance program that he said would empower the private sector and subsequently lower costs.

Georgia Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, praised the governor’s plan, saying that it would help “hundreds of thousands, if not millions,” of Georgia residents.

“You’ve heard me say this before, but with your health care and health care coverage, you had the choice between accessibility, affordability, or quality,” said Dugan, whose Senate district covers the western half of Douglas County. “You shouldn’t pick one, you should have all three. Because of the cost-effectiveness of what we’re doing, now you don’t have to choose. You can have all three. That’s what we’ve been looking for is to provide healthcare coverage to all Georgians, not just those that can most afford it.”

Kemp’s plan drew criticism from health policy experts and Democrats who say the governor is exaggerating the cost and leaving uninsured Georgians worse off by failing to fully expand Medicaid as 39 other states have done. Georgia has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country. Democrats have also argued Medicaid expansion is even more needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Heart Association and 17 other prominent nonprofits criticized the limited Medicaid expansion’s requirements, saying they effectively reduce access to health care and that the announcement’s timing isn’t good.

“This action would be problematic at any time,” the group said. “But it’s truly beyond comprehension that — in the midst of pandemic and recession — the federal government and Georgia are teaming up to reduce low-income residents’ access to health care.”

The state’s own fiscal analysts determined that when savings from reduced state expenses after Medicaid expansion are factored in, the annual cost to the state budget is closer to $200 million, said Laura Harker, senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“It’s not as expensive as the governor has stated, to move forward with the full Medicaid expansion, and then compare it to the plans that are proposed,” Harker said. “Those plans, he said, would cost about $200 million. So you’re looking at a comparable level there as far as cost, but not covering nearly as many people.”

Kemp said he anticipated criticism of his plan from fans of healthcare.gov and proponents of a full Medicaid expansion, but he said securing the waiver represents a first step in solving the state’s health care crisis. Many of Georgia’s rural hospitals are struggling to stay open and several have closed across Georgia in recent years.

“I know that some will complain that this reform package doesn’t fix every health care problem or concern that we have in our state, and that is absolutely true, but this plan is no doubt a big first step on a long journey to ensure a safe and healthy future for all Georgians,” he said. “Doing nothing, quite honestly, was not an option.”

Sentinel Managing Editor Ron Daniel, Times-Georgian Staff Writer Michael O’Hearn and Capitol Beat News Service and Georgia Recorder contributed reporting for this article.