Connecticut and the rest of the country will begin the decennial census next month. So much depends upon this count. Federal infrastructure, education, and public safety funding; representation in Congress and the state legislature; and even economic development all rely on the data collected. That is why we at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) have created a plan of action to help towns and cities make sure every resident is counted.
The Census Bureau is dealing with constrained budgets, long-standing distrust in government, informal living arrangements, a mobile population, increasingly diverse populations, and rapidly changing technology. Because each and every person living in America at the time the Census takes place must be counted, it needs help from towns and cities who are time and again ranked as the most trusted level of government.
CCM built our plan of action to make sure our communities are well-informed and can share that info with their residents. CCM has urged towns to:
• Inform residents that the census is easy and protects their data;
• Create or join a local Complete Count Committee;
• Partner with trusted voices and influential leaders who are committed to increasing census participation;
• Educate residents on the importance of completing the census;
• Participate in Point in Time Counts of those experiencing homelessness;
• Help with recruiting for Census Bureau jobs.
These efforts began in early 2019 when CCM joined the Connecticut Complete Count Committee led by Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz. Each town or city can create their own Complete Count Committee (CCC), and serve as state and local “census ambassador.” These committees are whatever a municipality needs them to be. They can include outreach to rural areas without physical mailboxes, or partnering with organizations in areas where English is not the primary language.
Waterbury divides its CCC into subcommittees with outreach to neighborhood associations, families, students, faith-based communities, foreign-born residents, and seniors. This ensures that residents get good credible information from sources they trust on how and where to fill out the Census form.
This is important in communities that might be leery of filling out a governmental form. The census does not reveal personal data and federal law protects responses — info will not be shared to any agency or court, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. In fact, all Census Bureau staff take a lifetime oath to protect personal information.
The census is crucial for municipalities. The state uses data from the census to make projections about school districts, health statistics and emergency preparedness. The Educational Cost Sharing formula uses census data. It allows the state to target public health interventions and public safety planning for vulnerable populations.
And municipalities need to know this information to make accurate predictions on things like housing and transportation needs. The data will not be revised in a few months or a few years, and the next census won’t be until 2030, so an undercount can affect us for an entire decade.
Eleven billion dollars in federal resources came to our state this past year based on census figures. That money represents over 55 different federal programs including SNAP, housing programs, and Community Development Block Grants. Connecticut sends more money to Washington than it gets back, so making sure the census is accurate is paramount to maintaining the funding that the state and municipalities receive.
The census is at the heart of good economic development. Businesses make all kinds of decisions for retail and manufacturing placement based on population data, so it is in municipalities’ best interest to make sure they are ensuring a full and accurate count.
That is the difference between losing a representative in Congress and staying at five, maintaining or even increasing federal funding we bring into the state, and economic development opportunities as businesses decide whether Connecticut is right for them.
The census, like elections, is an exercise in civic participation and, arguably, as important. Because it only happens every ten years, it increases the need for full participation. Dozens of towns and cities across Connecticut have created CCCs following CCM’s lead.
Our plan of action ensures that we not only properly communicate the importance of the 2020 census, but that we make sure that all Connecticut residents are on board. A full accounting helps provide the financial resources and essential data to improve the lives of residents, and foster economic development. We are all in this together. The census is counting on it.
Neil O’Leary is the mayor of Waterbury and immediate past president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), which is included among the sponsors of this website.
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