MERIDEN — The stakes are high for ensuring an accurate count of city residents when the census begins March 12, state and city officials said Wednesday.
“People need to realize the magnitude of what the census means,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said. “This is not something you’re going to receive in the mail and ignore. We depend on the results of the census for many different things ... infrastructure, schools. Now is the time to energize our community and get involved.”
Scarpati, co-chairman of the Meriden Complete Count Committee, was joined by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and state Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, at a press conference.
“There are $11 billion reasons to get the census right,” Bysiewicz said. “These programs funded by the census are critical.”
The state has partnered with more than 3,000 groups and organizations, and towns have formed 148 local committees. About one-quarter of state residents live in “hard-to-count areas.”
“Meriden is a hard-to-count area,” Bysiewicz said. “There are census tracts where we have people moving in and out and the response rate is low.”
Census 2020 marks the first time people can fill out the census online. Recognizing that not everyone is computer savvy or has access to a computer, there are phone numbers to call to provide the information in 12 different languages.
The Meriden Public Library will also offer assistance. Overcoming fear
A third challenge is overcoming the fear some people have that information will be turned over to authorities, particularly residents who are undocumented.
Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of census data from local, state and federal agents, including Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said Jeff Behler, regional director of the New York Regional Census Center.
Title 13 has sustained several court challenges, Behler said. Census workers take an oath never to divulge information that can identify an individual or a household.
“This is protected data,” Behler said. “The public trust is our foundation of getting an accurate count.”
Behler also reminded the public the census does not ask for Social Security, bank or license numbers.
The city committee has teamed up with the Meriden Housing Authority, Meriden Public Schools, the Community Health Center, local clergy and other groups to spread the word.
Hiring for part-time census workers will start in several weeks.
After receiving the mailing, residents have until April 1 to self-report via computer, or by phone. Neighborhoods are tracked for responses and census workers deployed to homes that have not responded. The counting will continue until officials are satisfied they’ve gotten as close as they can to an accurate count.
”If you don’t want someone knocking on your door, fill it out before April 1,” Santiago said.
Scarpati also announced and recognized Washington Middle School as the winner of the census banner contest open to the city’s middle schools.
Students were asked to create a tagline to showcase Meriden’s support of the 2020 Census. Washington students won with the winning tagline “Our Future is in Your Hands #Census2020” which will be displayed at Town Hall and West Main Street for residents to see throughout the month of March.