TEWKSBURY — Last week, the Tewksbury Public Library hosted an information session to share critical details about the 2020 US federal census with members of the community.
Tobin Abraham, legislative aide to State Representative Tram Nguyen, appeared on behalf of Nguyen, plus State Representative Dave Robertson, and State Senator Barry Finegold were in attendance.
Abraham explained that the census is required under article 1, section 2 of the US Constitution, and that the founding fathers viewed the census as “immensely important to our founders because it was essential to the idea of representational government. They were worried about a small handful of people making decisions that would affect a growing population,” he said. “They wanted to make sure that as the population grew, the number of representatives was also growing to make sure everyone’s voices were being heard.”
The census helps determine how over $675 billion in federal funding is apportioned to the states; states with higher populations get more money than states with fewer people. Abraham explained that an accurate count of residents is critical to getting more aid.
He also noted that the census is easier to do this year because it is being offered online and over the phone. The census is quick, short, and information is protected and cannot be misused. Local aid is influenced heavily by the census, including programs such as highway maintenance, Medicare, school lunch assistance, Pell grants for college students, and nutritional assistance.
Next, Georgia Lowe, partnership coordinator for the Census Bureau, emphasized the importance of strong advocates in the community.
“You all are the trusted voices in your community,” she said. “The 2020 census is going to shape your future.”
The census is less than six months away and starts on April 1, 2020.
“A successful census is easy to define,” said Lowe. “It’s counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place. That’s our goal in the 2020 census.”
Lowe also noted that the census is hiring part-time employees at rates as high as $25 per hour. The bureau is holding recruitment events and info sessions around the region, and information can be found at 2020census.gov/jobs. She explained that census ambassadors are trusted voices in every community that the census is “safe, easy, and important.”
Lowe noted that all responses are private and confidential under Title 13 of US federal law; any information identifying an individual cannot be released, and no information can be shared with any federal, state, or local agency, including law enforcement officials. All Census Bureau employees take a lifelong oath to protect personal information, and it is a federal crime to violate that oath.
Cybersecurity is up to the “latest, highest standards.” The census is a short questionnaire, and there are four ways to fill it out. The census will be available securely online, over the phone in both English and 12 non-English languages, by paper form, or in person, the most expensive option.
Lowe reiterated the importance of the census: “There is money at stake... resources for your community are at stake.”
2020 numbers will determine the next 10 years of federal, state, and local funding, and determines how congressional district lines will be redrawn.
“This is your census... we get one chance every 10 years to get it right.”
Abraham noted that a full count was not achieved in 2010, and the state lost the 10th congressional district as well as a representative in Congress. He also mentioned that data helps towns and states plan public safety and establish emergency plans, and businesses analyze numbers to determine where they want to locate. Groups that are difficult to count completely include senior citizens, college students, immigrant populations, and young children.
Next, Abraham introduced Vatsady Sivongxay, the statewide complete count coordinator for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Council. MIRA is working alongside the Secretary of the Commonwealth to achieve a complete count in 2020.
She explained that the US Census Bureau relies on Complete Count Committees to coordinate at the local level by understanding the challenges unique to individual communities, and increasing awareness and participation. CCCs can find sponsors and funders to assist with mailings and materials through local businesses and nonprofits, as well as the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund; interfaith and community groups can also serve as trusted voices.
Libraries, senior centers, and educational facilities can serve as “stationary questionnaire centers” to assist residents in completing their censuses. Trifold brochures, FAQ sheets, and toolkits are also available at 2020census.gov.
Mailings begin in mid-March to invite people to respond online or over the phone. Reminder mailings are sent in April. If no response is received, a paper questionnaire is sent to all remaining known addresses. If no response is received by mid-May, census takers start knocking on doors through July.
Sivonxgay, Lowe, and Abraham thanked residents for participating in the session, and encouraged them to be census ambassadors in the community. For more information, visit 2020census.gov.