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New London looks to prevent undercount in upcoming census

New London — Former New London school Superintendent Nicholas Fischer and his wife, Karen, both involved in local civic activities, have agreed to lead the effort to prevent a repeat of what is locally considered to be an undercount of New London’s population in the last census in 2010.

Mayor Michael Passero appointed the two as co-chairs of the Complete Count Committee to spearhead an initiative to ensure residents are aware of the importance of and are not left out of the upcoming 2020 census. The count begins on March 12.

The city, with an estimated population of 27,032, has been labeled a “hard to count” area by federal census officials, in part because of its numerous multifamily dwellings and transient population, college students and immigrant population.

During a visit with New London officials on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said “there are 11 billion reasons to get this right,” a reference to the $11 billion in federal funds that flow into the state each year. She said that for every person uncounted, the state loses about $2,900.

“Local taxpayers have to make that up,” she said.

The local effort will be focused on education. For the first time, the census is being conducted online, an obstacle for some people, such as lower-income families and older populations, that simply don't have access to computers, Nicholas Fischer said.

Residents who do not respond online will be mailed notices. Census workers eventually will come knocking if there is no response.

There is also a concern, particularly in immigrant communities, about giving out information to the government. Despite the fact census information cannot be used for any immigration-related issues, people are apprehensive and distrustful, Nicholas Fischer said. The irony, he said, is more accurate counts lead to better funding for a range of issues that include those who are “legally vulnerable,” a reference to undocumented immigrants.

The unsuccessful attempt by President Donald Trump’s administration to include a citizenship question on the census — a move struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court — has caused some confusion and fear, Bysiewicz said.

“The trust issue is critical to overcome because of the political atmosphere in which we live,” Karen Fischer said.

To address it, several churches and organizations — such as the Public Library of New London, NAACP and Drop-In Learning Center — are organizing meetings to discuss the census and its importance.

Fischer said it will be a community effort to reach people in their own language and he expects one of the tasks is to find Spanish speakers, Haitian Creole speakers and others to ensure residents are comfortable speaking to a census worker.

“It matters who is doing the outreach as much as what the information is,” he said.

Passero said he anticipates there will be thousands added to the city’s population when the census is completed. “We have so much to lose unless everyone is counted,” he said.

The distribution of federal funds, grants and support to the state and its municipalities are based on census data. The census guides the distribution of more than $675 billion annually in federal funds and is the determining factor in drawing state, federal and local legislative districts.

Fischer said he and Karen will work to develop community partners, such as church leaders, for the cause and would look to reach people during public community events in areas that there is historically underreporting.

Part-time jobs as census workers paying $23.50 an hour are still available in the area. For more information, visit 2020Census/jobs.

g.smith@theday.com

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