TEWKSBURY — Last Thursday, state representatives Tram Nguyen (18th Essex) and Paul Mark (2nd Berkshire) convened the district’s 2020 Census Kickoff event. Several local lawmakers, census officials, and community members joined together at Memorial Hall Library in Andover to discuss the importance of getting an accurate, complete count on the upcoming 2020 census.
The census is required by Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”
The first census was conducted in 1790. The census is critical to determining how $675 billion in federal funds are allocated across the country for programs such as highway maintenance, Medicare, school lunch assistance, Pell grants for college students, and nutritional assistance.
Rep. Nguyen, who represents Tewksbury, worked on the 2010 census. She spoke about obstacles to obtaining an accurate count, especially in certain populations, such as senior citizens, college students, and immigrant communities.
“One of the concerns we have is that the ramp up is not happening at the federal level, so the state needs to step up. Every single person counted is more money to our state and communities,” she said.
Rep. Mark, the chair of the House Committee on Redistricting, discussed demographic trends across the nine congressional districts in the Commonwealth: the First and Second districts in Western Massachusetts and Cape Cod’s Ninth district all saw negative or no population growth, while districts Three through Eight in Central and Eastern Massachusetts experienced positive growth. Each congressional district is required to be equally proportioned in population; the census is used to redraw district lines at the state and federal level, and can determine the legislative power of a region.
In 2013, the Tenth district was eliminated due to a low population count; however, Rep. Mark said the possibility remains that the state could regain the district with a complete census. Rep. Mark stated that he is not concerned about partisan gerrymandering in the state, citing numerous awards from organizations for having one of the “most open and transparent” public line-drawing processes in the country.
“I plan to meet or exceed that standard [in 2020],” he said.
He noted that Secretary of the Commonwealth and census liaison William Galvin believes the 2020 census will be the most difficult to administer, and that for the first time, $2.5 million in grants will be available to communities and local organizations to work on achieving a complete census, as well as $2.75 million in technical and data assistance.
Brian Major, Chairman of Registrars in Andover, spoke about Andover’s Complete Count Committee. According to the Census Bureau, “Complete Count Committees (CCC) are volunteer committees established by tribal, state, and local governments and community leaders or organizations to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census.”
CCCs address issues unique to their communities and the challenges to local populations, and spread information reminding residents to participate in the census. Joe Thibodeau, an aide to Representative Lori Trahan of the Third District, said that the congresswoman is committed to being a strong partner in the census and sees it as a highest priority. James Ostis, assistant to Mayor Bill Samaras of Lowell, also stated that Lowell will be utilizing a Complete Count Committee to address counting challenges with immigrant neighborhood populations and students at UMass Lowell.
Representing the New York/New England district of the US Census Bureau, 30-year census veteran Georgia Lowe told attendees “a good census is easy to define: counting everyone, once, in the right place.”
Lowe explained that the census is “safe, easy, and important.”
Starting April 1, 2020, residents may take the census online or by phone, with 13 available language options. Residents who don’t complete the census by way of the technical options will receive a paper questionnaire, and households that don’t mail back the questionnaire will be visited by a census ambassador; the Census Department is hiring census workers in communities via their website at 2020census.gov/jobs.
Lowe noted that the census is cybersecure and confidential; the Census Bureau is prohibited by law from sharing individuals’ information, even with other federal agencies or law enforcement, and census workers are sworn to protect personal data for life — breaking the oath is a federal criminal offense.