NJ commission works toward ‘complete count’ for 2020 census

It’s an understatement to say those involved with getting full participation for the 2020 census count have tough work ahead of them.

“I’m really concerned this time around with all of what is happening: the underfunding on the national level for the census, the citizenship question and the impact that that will have of keeping people away,” said Sen. Nellie Pou.

At stake is over $20 billion in federal funding for New Jersey. It’s money that goes to schools, transportation, and infrastructure, along with the number of congressional seats given to represent residents. The political ramifications there are endless.

At a statewide hearing for the New Jersey Complete Count Commission, the 27 members are planning outreach strategies to encourage full participation, collaborating on local levels with representatives from cities considered hard to count.

“This ought not to be partisan, it ought not to be political, but we do hear a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric in some quarters from some politicians. And that’s going to drive a lot of people into the shadows and make them more fearful of being counted,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, adviser for the Funders Census Initiative 2020.

“They live in fear because they left their country in fear. And so anything that creates panic, like the citizenship, they’re not going to come out,” said Grace Christian Fellowship Ministries Pastor Emmanuel Kuyateh.

This will also be the first census completed almost entirely online. And if the challenge of getting people from all ages, education and income levels to fill out a digital questionnaire wasn’t hard enough, states will have to combat cybersecurity risks and disinformation campaigns. New Jersey is planning a social media outreach program.

“Every census has its controversies, but regrettably I find that the confluence of factors that we’re facing this time around are somewhat unprecedented,” said Lowenthal.

Like the Trump administration’s proposed budget of $7.2 billion for the Census Bureau’s count. Lowenthal estimates the agency actually needs somewhere in the ballpark of $8 billion. But she’s urging state governments to supplement their federal funds, saying they’ll get the return on the investment.

Advocacy groups and state lawmakers are asking Gov. Phil Murphy for $9 million in the state budget to help get an accurate count.

“I know in terms of the governor, he has proposed $2 million for census in the budget, and I also understand that there is legislation to provide a bit more in funding,” said New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way.

So in the time leading up to 2020, expect the state to start a new campaign called GOTC, Get Out The Count. It’s hoping to encourage more participation through an education and awareness campaign.

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