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Bysiewicz says more than half the people in the region have responded to census

Addressing Norwich-area officials in a virtual town hall held via Zoom on Monday morning, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz reiterated her message that Connecticut – and specifically southeastern Connecticut – is doing better than its neighbors when it comes to census responses, but there’s still more work to do.

The national self-response rate to the 2020 Census is 52.8%, Bysiewicz said Monday, whereas it’s 55.9% in Connecticut and 56.5% in New London County.

From Friday to Saturday, Connecticut had the largest one-day increase in responses in the country, said Jeff Behler, director for the U.S. Census Bureau’s New York Regional Office. His office is responsible for operations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Puerto Rico.

The virtual town hall on Monday follows one last Wednesday featuring officials from Groton, Stonington, East Lyme, Waterford, Ledyard, Old Lyme and North Stonington.

Officials on Monday specifically praised Mary Bylone, first selectwoman of Colchester, which has a response rate of 65%.

Bylone said she is doing a Facebook Live video every day and the senior center is calling members once a week to remind them to fill out the census.

But Bylone said she is not resting on her laurels and issued a challenge to Lebanon First Selectman Kevin Cwikla. If Lebanon gets a higher response rate than Colchester, Bylone will send a gift basket with items from her town, such as cheese from Cato Corner Farm, wine from Priam Vineyards, and a hot dog and fries from Harry’s Place.

Other participants on the call shared what they’re doing to get the word out about the census.

“It’s good to hear from towns on how they’re doing it, because sometimes you get some ideas,” Plainfield First Selectman Kevin Cunningham said.

Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel said the town, which has a response rate of 59.3%, has clergy getting the word out to congregations.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said there was a writeup about the census in the Norwich Public Utilities newsletter last month, which will happen again. Three banners went up on high-traveled roads in Norwich and three more are going up this week in areas that are considered hard to count.

Norwich had census tracts that were considered hard to count in the 2010 Census, and its response rate so far in 2020 is 51.2%.

COVID-19 presents challenges and opportunities for census response

Certain populations are considered harder to count, such as children under 5 and Latinos.

But Bysiewicz said COVID-19 actually created a potential benefit as far as the census is concerned, because students in places like New London and Windham were given Chromebooks to do online learning.

That “provided a mechanism for families to respond over the internet who might not have had that access before,” Bysiewicz said, adding that a lot of mayors have been using grab-and-go meal sites to distribute flyers about the census.

She also said the state began a “social media blitz with two English and Spanish videos” this past weekend, and is asking legislators and town leaders to share them on social media.

At the same time, Bysiewicz noted that local complete count committees had planned to do outreach at festivals and parades, which they can no longer do.

Behler said the Census Bureau is seeking statutory relief for a delayed schedule, in which census workers don’t start knocking on doors until Aug. 11 and households can self-respond until Oct. 31. He said census workers are now being trained virtually rather than in a classroom setting.

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