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Port Arthur Census count meets goal, shows growth despite early doubts

City and community leaders in Port Arthur are celebrating after recent Census numbers showed the city did not drop below 50,000 in population, which would have impacted the amount of federal funds awarded to the city and its residents.

Delena King, representing the Complete Census County, spoke to City Council members this week and said the population count as of April 1, 2020, was 56,039. Despite widened concerns about loss of residents due to historic weather events, the final number was an increase above the 53,818 recorded people in April 2010.

Following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, when more than 60 inches of rainfall fell in Mid and South County, breaking the U.S. record for the most rainfall during a tropical event; many worried the loss of housing or fear of storms would cost the city residents. Dropping below 50,000 would mean city leaders would then have to compete with other cities for federal funds already granted.

From left, Timothy O’Neal of Port Arthur, city of Port Arthur public information officer Cheryl Gibbs, Dr. Efrain Avendaño of Port Arthur and Complete Count Committee chairman Dr. Albert Thigpen give out goodies to citizens during a drive-thru event in November 2020 at Empowerment Church. (I.C. Murrell/The News) 11-6-20

“The federal government will distribute more than $675 billion to cities across the country over the next 10 years,” King said. “That amount will be based on the Census count.”

Programs funded by those dollars include WIC, SNAP (food stamps) and Section 8 housing, among others.

“There are many people in our community that rely on programs for assistance,” King said.

According to information provided by the 2020 Complete County Committee, undercounted residents, or “hard-to-count” populations, include low-income people, racial and ethnic minorities, highly mobile people, those that don’t trust government, undocumented immigrants, those that do not speak English, people experiencing homelessness, those without access to internet, those with mental or physical disabilities and children under 5.

“These are the things we had to go through to get people to fill out their Census,” King said, “so we had many obstacles faced against us in Port Arthur… It was projected that Port Arthur would not get 50,000 in population.”

In order to overcome said challenges, which included door-to-door visits during a pandemic, Census members in Port Arthur attended events such as those at the Port Arthur Public Library, Kwanza, events for Juneteenth and MLK Day, and the Lunar New Year celebration at the Buddhist Temple, just to name a few.

“The door-to-door and the phone banking (or calling all residents that had not returned a form) were the two biggest aspects of this Census,” King said.

Mayor Pro Tem Donald Frank called King and the committee the “unsung heroes” of Port Arthur.

“We know how truly valuable you and your staff and so many others have been and what it means to our city,” he said. “That Census is connected to federal funding and so many other aspects of what we need here in our city.”

Councilman Thomas Kinlaw echoed Marks’ statements to King.

“I know you worked hard; I saw you everywhere,” he said. “It’s great to know that, at one time we were thought to have less than 50,000, and we ended up with 56,000. That lets you know that you guys did a great job and you were out there working hard for this city.”

Members of the Port Arthur City Council, the Complete Count Committee and city employees pose behind a Census 2020-themed Port Arthur Transit bus just outside city hall on Feb. 4, 2020. (I.C. Murrell/The News) 2-4-20