MERIDEN — Leaders of local U.S. Census count efforts expressed dismay at the news this week that the 2020 Census Count would be halted.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, convened a mid-day roundtable on the topic at City Hall with local elected leaders, U.S. Census coordinators and census outreach coordinators from Meriden and other municipalities, including those in Waterbury and New Haven, and other stakeholders.
The discussion came two days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed federal officials to end census field operations by 6 a.m. today — earlier than the previous Oct. 31 cutoff date.
Murphy said he is disappointed the count was cut off early.
“I think more time is absolutely necessary in a pandemic environment,” Murphy said, noting “almost all” of the federal dollars allocated to communities throughout Connecticut are based on census counts, which are conducted every 10 years.
“It’s so important for us to get an accurate count, and an
accurate amount of money,” Murphy said. “... this abbreviated count may affect what the census looks like.”
Democratic State Rep. Hilda Santiago, of Meriden, was one of the co-leaders of the city’s census count efforts. She outlined some of the difficulties posed by closures of public buildings, including libraries and schools, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This being the first time that the Internet was being used was kind of difficult, because the libraries were closed, the senior centers were closed. People didn’t have access, especially in my district, to computers, so it was difficult,” said Santiago. She represents the 84th House District, which covers the center of Meriden.
Denise Martinez, outreach coordinator for New Opportunities Inc. In Waterbury, said part of her agency’s census count efforts included educating people on why their participation is important.
“A lot of the time it was educating people, and letting them know, do you want funding for your schools and other programs?” Martinez said. It helped that her group was able to offer would-be census takers incentives, like gift cards, for their participation.
Sonya Jelks, a Meriden city councilor, said one of the things that impacted census count efforts in the city was the fact there were far fewer public events because of COVID-19.
But officials were able to get a head start on the census count by getting the word out early.
Santiago noted that census counting efforts started even before 2016, with public service announcements that started in 2015.
Other events had been planned, but those events were cut short.
“My district, the one I represent, the downtown area, is one of the hardest areas to count,” Santiago said, adding people were hesitant to open doors to speak with census takers.
“The census needs to hire people who reflect the community,” Santiago said. “... I think that’s something the census needs to look at in the future, that they need to hire people from the community for the numerator jobs.”
Richard Cordero, Santiago's Republican opponent in the race for the 84th House District seat, did not respond to email or phone call requests for comment Thursday.