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New London County's census response rate is 55%, above state overall

More than half of all households in the state have completed the census but there’s still more work to do, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said.

Connecticut's census response rate is 53.9%. The state's rate is higher than the national average and surrounding northeastern states, Bysiewicz said.

In New London County, the response rate was 55% as of Thursday — higher than the state's overall rate.

During a virtual town hall with local and state representatives on Wednesday, Bysiewicz said it’s critical that the remaining households fill out the census because it determines the amount of funding provided to the state for disaster relief, hospital funding, Medicaid, Medicare, the National School Lunch Program and other programs that have become especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every person that goes uncounted represents $2,900 in lost funds to a community, or $29,000 over the 10-year census period, she said.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and state Reps. Christine Conley, D-Groton; Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton; and Kate Rotella, D-Stonington, spoke about the importance of the census, from how the data determines where services need to be provided to how it helps businesses decide to locate to a community.

Jeff Behler, who leads the northeastern region for the U.S. Census Bureau, said there is a proposal that requests extending the deadline to provide the apportionment count to the president from Dec. 31, 2020, to April 30, 2021. Under that proposal, people would have until Oct. 31 to self-respond.

But he stressed that people should not wait, because on Aug. 11, census takers plan to knock on doors of people who haven’t yet responded.

“We want people to self-respond before August 11, so we don’t have to send people out there to knock on their doors,” he said. “We’re going to change the way we train people and the way they actually conduct the work to incorporate social distancing and to reduce the risk of jeopardizing the public’s health as well as the health of our employees.”

Getting the word out

Bysiewicz announced in a news release Friday the start of a multilingual social media campaign, particularly focused on "hard-to-count communities."

In New London County, local officials and community representatives said Wednesday that they are planning ways to still get the message out about the importance of completing the census, even though in-person community events won’t be taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many communities said the library and community organizations, along with Complete Count Committees, were helping.

“It’s an interesting time to say the least in terms of how to get the messaging out,” said Ledyard Mayor Fred Allyn III, who is focusing on social media and creating videos, including one where he encourages people to sit down with a hot cup of coffee and the census on a rainy Saturday morning.

City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said efforts include ordering banners to put over major roadways and signs to remind people of the census, and posting public service announcements in English and Spanish on Facebook.

Adam Wright, community planning and liaison officer with the Naval Submarine Base, said the outreach campaign for Navy families incorporates steps from social media to plans to put banners on the commissary on base.

As many people relocate and may not at first feel like they're part of Groton, the military community historically has been undercounted, presenting a problem for Groton, he explained.

Conley also noted the Navy sent out a message to all its members who are stationed in and around Groton to let them know that, under federal rules, their local address in southeastern Connecticut is their address for the census.

Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule said a video about the census that incorporated many languages spoken in town and also many community members was well-received. Waterford also is using signs and banners and reaching people digitally.

“It’s about a culture of community,” he said. “It’s about reaching out, not stopping.”

North Stonington First Selectman Mike Urgo said he has been getting the word out through his weekly update and by relying on trusted voices in the community. The town also is looking to utilize schools to get the word out.

Stonington has a nonprofit roundtable with 40 organizations helping to spread the word about the census, schools are being asked to include it in their updates and social media posts also get the message out, according to First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough.

Old Lyme First Selectman Tim Griswold said his town's response rate is relatively low, likely because summer cottages are listed as addresses but people who come to the community seasonally don’t live there. The town plans to send out inserts with information about the census in tax bills, so people, even if they don’t live in Old Lyme, can fill out the form indicating that.

The town also is communicating in other ways, from a newsletter to cable access. With people sequestered at home, Griswold said he hopes to get the word out to “please help us on this front.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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