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Let The Counting Begin!

For most Americans, filing a census form this time around is as easy as logging on to the Internet.

And the census Bureau is making an all-out push to get people to file that way, reports CBS News Correspondent Lisa Hughes.

Monday the government mailed out 98 million census forms to city and suburban addresses just as it began promoting the national decennial headcount in classrooms across the country.

For the first time, people have the option of using the number on the bar code to log on to the Census Bureau's Web site, and answer their questionnaire over the Internet. They also can fill out the paper form and mail it back.

Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt said "Teach Census Week" is aimed at rectifying a problem that became evident in 1990: Some Americans forgot to count their children in the census.

"The hope is that this program...will ensure that in 2000, every child is counted," Prewitt said. "This program is an ideal way to teach people, through children's school lessons, about the importance of including everyone living in their household on their census forms."

More than 1.5 million teacher kits have been shipped to participating schools. Children also are receiving take-home exercises to complete with adults in their households.

Prewitt said the mailings should have questionnaires in most of the country's 115 million households by the end of the week. About 83 million homes will get short forms, which contain seven questions, and a randomly sampled list of 15 million homes will get long forms, which have 52 questions.

The rest of the forms were delivered by hand, mostly to rural addresses.

Census figures are used to, among other purposes, reapportion congressional districts and allocate federal aid to states and localities for projects such as school building and providing emergency services.

Prewitt warned the public to beware of deceptive mailings. The official census form comes in an envelope with a Commerce Department return address and the Census 2000 logo.

"We've designed a distinctive-looking package," he said, "so everyone will know that this, and only this, is the official census form with a bar code for their household."

Also for the first time, Americans are able to check off multiple boxes when asked about their race, something which Prewitt says has generated a lot of criticism.

Some civil rights groups worry how the government will use the information and whether it may become more difficult to prove race-based discrimination.

Prewitt says, "This is self identification. If people want to identify themselves as multi racial, this is the opportunity that has been presented to them."

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report