MERIDEN — A year ahead of the 2020 U.S. Census, officials are beginning outreach to encourage participation and inform the public about what’s at stake for Connecticut, including congressional redistricting and billions in funding.
“The census is now,” Lisa Moore, assistant regional manager from the U.S. Census Bureau, said during a press conference Thursday morning at the Board of Education building on Liberty Street. “Although the formal count will commence in the spring of 2020, many of the critical foundational activities have already begun.”
The city plans to form a “complete count” committee comprised of local stakeholders who will raise awareness, Mayor Kevin Scarpati said during the press conference.
Scarpati will work with Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, and other members of the city’s legislative delegation to form the committee, which will include representatives from education, business, faith-based and non-profit groups. A similar “complete count” committee has also been formed at the state level and in other cities, including Bridgeport and New Haven, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said.
“We were so excited that Rep. Santiago and the city of Meriden embarked on this effort early because it is the organizational effort that we are doing now that will help us accomplish this mammoth undertaking of counting every person in our state,” said Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state.
The census process will begin April 1, 2020. For the first time, residents can fill out the census online, which Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said presents “both an opportunity and a challenge because there are communities of people that don’t have access to online resources.”
Some speakers at the press conference expressed concern that the Trump Administration’s push to include a citizenship question for the first time could deter undocumented people from participating.
“We want to get the message out to the undocumented people in our state, in Meriden and across the state, that you should not feel afraid to come forward and to fill that census out because federal law prohibits anyone from getting access to that information,” Bysiewicz said.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has defended his decision to include a citizenship question by saying the information will be used to determine citizen age voting populations to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices.
“I determined that the importance of that goal outweighed any potential decrease in self-response rates that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond,” Ross said Thursday in prepared remarks to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in California ruled the citizenship question was unconstitutional, saying the move “threatens the very foundation of our democratic system.” The matter is now before the Supreme Court.
The census data, collected every 10 years, is used to determine distribution of congressional seats and billions of dollars in federal funding.
For every resident that is not counted in the census, Connecticut loses $2,900 in federal funds, according to Bysiewicz. The funds are distributed for a wide range of programs, including food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, highway construction, and community development block grants. Last year, Connecticut received $10.7 billion in federal funding, which ranked 48th among all states, Bysiewicz said.
Connecticut could also be at risk of losing one of its five Congressional districts. The state lost a district in the 2000 census, and total population has remained relatively stagnant since, growing just over 10,000, or .29 percent, from 2010 to 2017, according to data from the Department of Public Health.
Bysiewicz and representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau have scheduled more than 20 press events around the state.
Meriden is considered part of the 20 percent of Connecticut that is “designated as a hard to count area” because much of its population is transient, making it harder to reach out, according to Bysiewicz.
Wire reports contributed to this story.
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