Census advocates stress importance of 2020 count

Norwich — More than a dozen state, local and tribal officials and volunteers flanked a podium Friday in the Council Chambers to stress the importance of the 2020 U.S. Census and outline efforts to count as many people as possible.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who is leading the state’s census awareness campaign, estimated for every person undercounted, the state loses about $2,900. That's because federal funding for education, school lunch, community block grants, hospital grants and medical, food and energy assistance is based on census data, she said. Congressional district lines will be drawn based on the count, as well.

“There are census tracts in Norwich that are hard to count, and it is important to take extra care and use extra effort to make sure everyone understands how important it is and participates,” Bysiewicz said.

The count will begin March 12, when people start receiving postcards directing them to the first-ever online census forms. If people don’t respond, they will receive forms in the mail, and if those are unanswered, census workers will knock on doors in May or June.

Eva Bunnell, coordinator for the New York census region that includes New England, New York and New Jersey, has participated in 1,500 events across Connecticut to stress the need to count traditionally undercounted populations and to recruit the 21,000 workers needed for the 2020 count.

Bunnell said Native American tribes are among the leading undercounted populations, along with children up to age 5 — critical for school funding.

Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a Norwich Board of Education member, said it’s not only important to be counted as individuals but as representatives of diverse ethnic groups to show "who we are."

Khalsa, an active member of Connecticut's Sikh community, said the census is adding more than 200 different category codes, including one for Sikhs. He said the Sikh community is excited to be recognized and is using brochures and census publications in different languages at local Sikh community groups to ensure that people fill out the census forms.

“We cannot afford any communication gap,” Khalsa said, “that’s how important the census is this year. And of course, it is our civic duty to do that."

Robert Hayward, co-chairman of the Mashantucket-Pequot tribe's Complete Count Committee, said the tribe is placing census information in employee areas, such as the cafeteria, and on public concourses to reach as many people as possible.

“This census effort is especially important to our tribe,” tribal Youth Council member Shaquanna Sebastian noted, “because our contemporary history is connected to past census records. Within our tribal constitution, our tribal membership is comprised of direct lineal descendants of the 1900 and the 1910 U.S. censuses.”

“Our ancestors who were counted back then never realized how important their participation in the federal census would be for our tribe’s existence,” Hayward added.

Elanah Sherman, chairwoman of the Norwich Commission for Persons with Disabilities and a member of the Norwich Complete Count Committee, said she wants to ensure people with disabilities are counted, especially those with communication difficulties.

“If a person who is blind or who has a severe visual disability gets a hard-copy notification in the mail, there is nothing that person can do with that material,” she said. She already has determined that the online forms are accessible to people who use voice technologies.

"We will be working with local disability advocacy groups to make sure people with all disabilities, but quite frankly, particularly people with communications disabilities, are aware of the census and are able to respond to it," Sherman said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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