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COVID-19 causes changes in census planning

While it may be hard for some people to focus on news that isn't about the coronavirus, to Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of participating in the 2020 Census.

"Even though this is a difficult time, there couldn't be a more important moment to fill out the census," Bysiewicz said, "because federal disaster relief, hospital funding, Medicare, Medicaid, federal school lunch, Head Start programs, are all funded based on how many people live in a community or the state of Connecticut."

But the coronavirus is impacting the operations of the U.S. Census Bureau and local Complete Count Committees.

The Census Bureau first suspended field operations for two weeks until April 1, and then announced Saturday another two-week suspension until April 15, "to help protect the health and safety of the American public."

Invitations and reminder postcards have been mailed, and this is the first year that people can respond online. The more people respond online, the fewer census workers have to go door-to-door knocking.

According to a map from the Census Bureau, the response rate by the end of the day Sunday was 34.7% nationwide, 35.9% in Connecticut, and 37.2% in New London County. The response rate was 34.8% in Norwich, 34.2% in Groton and 32.1% in New London, three municipalities with census tracts that were considered "hard to count" in the 2010 Census.

The period in which people can respond online, by phone, or by mail has been extended from July 31 to Aug. 14. But the Census Bureau is still on track to deliver counts to the president by Dec. 31.

April 1 is Census Day, which Bysiewicz explained as a day the Census Bureau highlights the importance of filling out the census and also begins mailing paper forms to households that haven't yet participated.

Bysiewicz originally scheduled a virtual town hall Monday with Attorney General William Tong, Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull, and New York Regional Census Center Director Jeff Behler, but it was rescheduled to Tuesday due to technical difficulties, she said.

The purpose is to provide updates on response to the pandemic and to warn people against census-related scams.

Bysiewicz told The Day that if someone claims to be a census worker but asks you for your Social Security number, bank account information or political party, it's a scam.

The census, which can be completed online in five minutes, only asks for your name, address, number of people in your household, birthday, and racial or ethnic background. It does not ask for your citizenship status.

Committees in Groton, New London and Ledyard adjust

"We've had to do some changing," Liz Porter, chair of the Town of Groton Complete Count Committee, said with a laugh, when asked last week about the impact of COVID-19.

The committee was planning on doing a kickoff at the libraries in Groton on Wednesday, but that was canceled. It also got a $750 grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut to put up posters but got permission to instead use the money to buy three banners to go up around town.

The committee is also sharing information through a Facebook page, Groton Complete Count — Census 2020.

Nick Fischer, co-chair of New London's Complete Count Committee, told The Day last week that the committee is having a teleconference meeting every week.

He said they're putting flyers in the food packages going out to New London Public Schools students; the flyers are bilingual but soon to be trilingual, including English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. Fischer said they're also working with New London Public Works Superintendent David Denoia to put magnets on the city garbage trucks.

Students at the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication are working on ways to get the word out, Fischer said. He also commended the efforts of people from New London Youth Affairs, New London Adult and Continuing Education, New London Homeless Hospitality Center, Brigaid, the Garde Arts Center, Atlantic Broadband and Ledge Light Health District.

Fischer said some of those people have strong connections in Hispanic communities, which is important because those populations are historically undercounted.

He said someone at the Winthrop Square Apartments "basically told us that the worst thing you can do is to knock on people's doors" because they may wonder if it's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That makes it all the more important for census advocates to have trusted messengers in the community talk about the census. Fischer said he and his wife, Karen, have been approaching the leaders of Hispanic and Haitian-Creole churches.

Gale Bradbury, director of Ledyard Libraries and chair of the town's census committee, said her group had to cancel a series of events planned for this week and early April at the libraries and senior center. The plan was to have a laptop available to fill out the census, particularly useful for those who don't own a computer.

Another activity put on hold was distributing flyers to day cares and nursery schools, which is important because children under 5 are considered an undercounted population.

Bradbury said, "Hopefully people being at home, they'll take the time to fill it out."

e.moser@theday.com

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