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Officials emphasize importance of complete census count in Groton

Groton — Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, local officials and representatives involved in census efforts emphasized at a news conference Thursday that the census is safe, easy, and important — and coming up quickly.

State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, stressed the importance of a complete count in an area of the state that may have been undercounted in the past. In addition to having a population that moves in and out of apartments, Groton and surrounding towns also have a very mobile population in the military community, she said.

"We want to make it clear to our families who are in the military that there is a very special census rule and your home for the census is your local address near where you are stationed," Conley said. If their home of record or car registration is in a different state, their census address is their local address in Connecticut, she explained.

In Groton, 20 percent of school students are from military families, so it's important to make sure the military community is appropriately counted, she added.

Conley was among the speakers at a news conference at the Groton Senior Center, as Bysiewicz visits communities across the state, particularly those with hard-to-count areas, to emphasize the importance of the census. 

Attendees included a Census Bureau representative; the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut; City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick; Groton Public Library Director Jennifer Miele; Liz Porter, chair of the Complete Count Committee for the Town of Groton; Town Manager John Burt; and Representative Town Meeting member Albert Colon.

The city and town have both formed complete count committees to assist with the census efforts.

Bysiewicz said it's important to count every single person because the census determines funding for critical federal programs, including Head Start, federal school lunch assistance, SNAP food benefits, Medicaid and highway, road and construction projects. For each person undercounted, the state will lose $2,900, with young children being the most likely group to be undercounted.

"The age group from birth to 5 is most likely to be undercounted, so it’s really important that we get the message out to count everyone," she said.

The count also is important for political representation, as well as for decisions made by the business community, from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, on whether to locate to an area, she said.

Bysiewicz referenced that there has been a "climate of fear" in communities of color and in immigrant communities because of the citizenship question controversy. She stressed that the Supreme Court has been very clear that the question will not be on the census form and also emphasized that people's personal information is protected and cannot be used for law enforcement purposes.

To overcome the challenge of the digital divide, libraries are ready to help people, Bysiewicz said.

Miele said the Groton Public Library, as well as the Mystic and Noank Library and Bill Memorial Library, will have a census kickoff on April 1. She said each facility has computers and wants to encourage people to come and ask questions.

"While we can't walk you through the census itself, we can certainly answer questions and also help people with computer usage, so please come down," Miele said. She added that people also can ask for help and use the computers any other day they visit the library, not just April 1.

Porter, chair of the town's Complete Count Committee as well as a Board of Education member, said the committee has been meeting since November and has at least seven subcommittees.

"We’re about to hit the road right now," she added. "We’re getting action plans and going into places in the next two weeks, so look for posters; they’re going to be plastered everywhere."

During the event, Colon, active in the census committee, shared a message in Spanish about the importance of the census.

Sally Booth of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut spoke about their participation in supporting activities and information sharing about the census.

Eva Bunnell, congressional and tribal senior partnership specialist for the New York regional Census Center, said there will be four ways to respond to the census. The first two options are for people to respond online or by toll-free phone number, with 12 non-English languages available, along with an additional 59 non-English language guides.

If people have not responded those first two ways, they’ll receive a paper questionnaire in their mailbox, she said.

The last way to respond is when a census worker knocks on doors to obtain the information, she said.

She said the Census Bureau is asking people to apply for temporary, part-time census taker jobs in Groton, which pay $23.50 an hour.

k.drelich@theday.com

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