Advocates push to get an accurate count for upcoming census

Every 10 years the Census Bureau counts how many people are living here. The count determines how federal funds gets distributed, how many electoral votes a state gets and even how many representatives it has in Congress.

“Whether it’s Medicaid, whether it’s SNAP, whether its Title 1 schools, these are all programs that rely on an accurate census count. And for young children in particular, these programs are extremely important,” said Peter Chen policy counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

But young children, or children under the age of five, were the most undercounted population of age group in the last census, according to Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which hosted a forum on the importance of counting kids in the 2020 census. William O’Hare was a keynote speaker.

“A lot of it has to do with living conditions — that they live with young parents, they live in rental units, they live in poverty households, that they often live in complex households like a young child living with a grandparent. Those kinds of situations are more prone to be missed in the census,” O’Hare, who serves as president of O’Hare Data and Demographic Services, said.

Newark resident Patrice Hutcheson is a mother of four, with one child who relies on the services from Programs for Parents, a federally-funded program that allows her 4-year-old to attend after school and summer programs at a discounted rate.

“I’ll give you an figure: 20,000 children want to participate in a program, but if we’re only counting that there are 10,000 kids, we’re only going to get funding for what they would think we would need,” said Hutcheson.

About 72 percent of New Jersey residents filled out a census in 2010. But if a city had a population who filled out less than that number, those are considered places that are “hard-to-count.”

“We want to pay special attention to these hard to count communities,” said Lauren Zyriek, director of intergovernmental affairs at the New Jersey Department of State.

For the first time, the state has formed the Complete Count Commission to help get an accurate tally of residents.

“There are representatives from the Senate, the Assembly, the Latino Caucus, the Black Caucus and several community groups,” Zyriek said.

But many at the forum expressed concern about a proposed new question on citizenship status that was added to the 2020 census by the Department of Commerce. The advocates fear it will deter people from filling out census forms.

“If communities with large numbers of immigrants or noncitizens are undercounted, they won’t get their fair share of that,” said O’Hare.

This week a federal judge ruled against including the question. The case is likely headed to the Supreme Court.

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