Courtesy of the CT Data Collaborative
The hard-to-count Census tracts are in the red (Courtesy of the CT Data Collaborative)

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut Voices for Children said Wednesday that Connecticut’s volunteer efforts to make sure resident is counted in the 2020 Census is not enough.

At least 31 states have already funded outreach plans, according to Connecticut Voices for Children Research and Policy Fellow Michael Sullivan.

Why does it matter?

In 2016, Connecticut received over $10.7 billion through 55 large federal spending programs. Those dollars are based on Census figures. 

“What’s at stake is Connecticut’s quality of life, securing the full amount of $10.7 billion of federal funding, fair and accurate apportionment of state and federal legislative seats, as well as well-informed planning and economic development,” Connecticut Voices for Children Executive Director Emily Byrne said. “It is imperative Connecticut create a comprehensive statewide plan for Census 2020 outreach and allocate appropriate funding for implementation. If we fail on either fronts, Connecticut residents ultimately lose and so does the state.”

An accurate count of Connecticut residents will ensure that more adequate federal dollars will be available to support the education, health care, nutrition assistance, housing, transportation, and other needs of children and families, according to CT Voices for Children.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz has held forums all over the state on the Census and has taken the lead on the volunteer committee in charge of getting an accurate count.

“Connecticut is far ahead of other states in terms of grassroots organizing for the 2020 Census, with more than 100 local complete count committees formed,” Bysiewicz said Wednesday. ”I’ve also been actively working with OPM to identify state funding and have additionally been reaching out to philanthropic organizations throughout the state and look forward to announcing in the near future a partnership that will ensure Connecticut has a complete count.”

However, according to CT Voices for Children, Connecticut has not yet issued any coordinated plan or set of recommendations for outreach. By comparison, surrounding states New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have appropriated funding for Census outreach ranging from $700,000 to $20 million.

Massachusetts is spending $2.5 million and has a goal of pooling $1 million in philanthropic funding. New Jersey has allocated $9.5 million and has a $2 million goal for philanthropic funding to support its efforts.

In Connecticut, beyond the voluntary efforts, there has been some effort to raise money outside of state government for the effort.

In September, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving awarded $448,000 in grants to 20 nonprofits in the Harford region to support participation in the Census, as well as voter registration and engagement. Also, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has committed $20,000 to fund Census education work among hard-to-count populations in Bridgeport.

According to the Fiscal Policy Institute and Census Counts tool, Connecticut would need to spend about $6.16 million to reach the approximately 746,000 residents who are considered hard-to-court.

CT Voices for Children is recommending the state allocated $3.57 million to coincide with its 3.57 million people.

CT Voices for Children also believes the legislature should call a special session before February to approve the additional funds. Byrne said since the project would need to be put out to bid they are recommending a special session.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said he’s open to having a conversation about using state funding for this purpose, as long as they can match that funding with a philanthropic investment. He said the trick will be finding the funding before they adjust the budget in May. In the meantime, they are meeting with the Office of Policy and Management to see if there’s any money they could use for outreach.

But as of Wednesday afternoon neither Bysiewicz or legislative leaders had committed any state funds toward the effort.

Advocates at CT Voices for Children said they would also like to see the state transfer or re-purpose existing funds, explore using Federal Highway Administration matching funds to support Census outreach like Rhode Island has done and partner with private entities to supplement state funds.

Overall, in 2010, 79.1% of households mailed back their questionnaires. However, there were many Census tracts with much lower response rates

Census tracts with mail return rates of 73% or less in 2010 are considered hard-to-count tracts and those tracts are found in Connecticut’s cities and more rural districts. The 2020 Census will be the first year the public is allowed to use the Internet to fill out their questionnaires. Fewer households in hard-to-count Census tracts have Internet access. Residents in those areas would have to use their mobile devices or a library computer. 

In New Haven there’s tracts in both Sen. Gary Winfield and Senate President Martin Looney’s district that are considered hard-to-count. In Looney’s district in 2010 only 58.7% of the households mailed back their questionnaires. In Winfield’s district there are tracts where only 58.6% and 59.5% of households mailed back their questionnaires.

“Counting every person for the 2020 Census is critically important to the future of our state,” Looney said Wednesday. “An accurate count in our urban centers benefits all Connecticut communities by providing hundreds of millions, if not billions, in federal funding for our state. I am interested to see how we can bolster our efforts for the 2020 Census and look forward to seeing ideas and solutions from both political parties. We cannot afford for the census to become a victim of partisan politics.”

In Hartford in Sen. Doug McCrory’s district there were three tracts where between 55% and 57% of the households mailed back their questionnaires. In Sen. John Fonfara’s district there was a tract where only 58.3% of households responded.

In Bridgeport in Sen. Dennis Bradley’s district there are tracts where only 55 to 59% of households returned their questionnaires in 2010.

But it’s also rural districts.

In Sen. Mae Flexer’s district in the eastern part of the state there’s a Census tract where only 52.1% returned their questionnaire in 2010.

Representation also depends on the Census.

Connecticut’s state constitution requires that Congressional and state legislative districts be redrawn every ten years. The state bases its plan to redraw legislative districts on population data from the decennial Census.

In the Congressional reapportionment following the 2000 Census, Connecticut lost one of its six Congressional seats because its population grew slower than the populations of other states. Connecticut’s population has been stagnant between 2010 and 2018.

One projection of the 2020 apportionment of Congressional seats based on population trends since 2010 found that if Connecticut loses another 134,248 residents compared to 2020 population projections, it could lose another Congressional seat. This means that an undercount or actual population decline of 3.8 percent of Connecticut’s projected 2020 population could result in a lost seat.

“It’s a real possibility,” Byrne said.