With Big Implications for Connecticut, the Census Moves Forward Even as Field Operations Suspended by Coronavirus

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Over a third of Connecticut households have already been counted, but federal, state, and local officials acknowledge that the coronavirus and social distancing are adding extra challenges to the decennial count of every person in the United States.

You can still respond by phone, and this is the first year that the U.S. Census Bureau is accepting responses online.

Bysiewicz and state officials say that Connecticut could expect to lose about $2,900 each year for the next decade for every individual who fails to respond to the census.

“This is a challenging time to be pulling off one of the largest peacetime mobilizations within our state and our country,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Byseiwicz at a virtual town hall conference call Tuesday afternoon. “At a time when our state is experiencing a healthcare crisis, we are working very hard already.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 37.6 percent of Connecticut households have filed census information by mail or telephone, compared to a national response rate of 36.2 percent, according to the Census Bureau’s website.

The Census Bureau has also met its goal for hiring Connecticut residents who will eventually go door-to-door to contact people who don’t respond online, by phone or mail, according to Jeff Behler who directs the bureau’s New York regional office and joined Bysiewicz at the virtual town hall.

Bysiewicz and state officials say that Connecticut could expect to lose about $2,900 each year for the next decade for every individual who fails to respond to the census.

The count will be used for the next decade to determine federal aid to states and municipalities for disaster relief, Medicaid, Medicare, hospital funding, nutritional aid, food stamps and other programs, Bysiewicz said.

Census Day, April 1, is significant because it serves as the ‘snapshot’ date for the census — in most cases, where a person is living on April 1 is where the census asks them to list their place of residence.

Elizabeth Porter, who chairs the Town of Groton’s local census complete count committee, said that the coronavirus outbreak has complicated her work and led to canceling kickoff events once planned for Census Day. But she added that the pandemic showcases why governments need the information gathered in the census.

“It’s not smooth, but we’ll get through,” Porter said in a Monday phone interview. “I’m just hoping people realize that [the coronavirus pandemic] is the type of thing we’re going through that the census helps with because it provides the demographic information that governments need to make decisions. If they don’t know how many seniors or children or people with limited mobility are in an area — if they don’t know what the demographics are — they can’t make good decisions.”

She said her committee’s focus now is to contact populations that are traditionally undercounted — children, seniors, the poor, the homeless, those who move often, undocumented immigrants, people who don’t speak English, and anyone else who may be wary of government.

She and Behler both emphasized that census information is forbidden by law from being shared with law enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the IRS, or other government agencies.

“They’re looking for numbers, not names,” Porter said.

The purpose of local complete count committees is to offer “trusted voices,” Porter said — local leaders from religious groups, schools, and the military who residents will recognize and trust to personalize the enormous federal effort.

What’s new, how to fill out the census?

Most U.S. households should have already received a mailer inviting them to respond online to the census and giving them a 12-digit census ID specific to that household, Behler said. Households that have not yet received that ID can still respond without an ID code by giving their address on the questionnaire.

“At the end of the census, we will take addresses that have multiple responses and we will do a quality control check,” Behler said. Staff will then disregard duplicates.

People with PO Boxes typically will not receive questionnaires by mail, Behler said, and the bureau was originally planning for staff to deliver questionnaires to their individual addresses, but that effort was suspended on March 17, after less than three days, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“As soon as it is deemed safe for staff and for the public, we will begin [field] operations again,” Behler said. “Regardless, everyone can still go online even if they don’t have that packet.”

Starting April 8, the census will begin mailing questionnaires to people who have not responded to allow them to respond by mail, Behler said.

Attorney General warns of census and virus scams

Also on the call with Bysiewicz, State Attorney General William Tong and Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull cautioned residents to beware of scams linked to the coronavirus or the census. 

Tong specifically said that he’d heard of scams claiming that people need to pay some kind of fee before they get money from Congress’s federal coronavirus relief package.

Census workers will not ask for social security numbers, bank accounts, or credit card numbers, Bysiewicz added.

“Anytime somebody you don’t know is reaching out to you … and they ask for personal information or ask you for money or a bank account number or a credit card, you need to be really suspicious,” Seagull said. “Particularly if they threaten you or somehow pressure you by saying you’ll miss out on something good or something bad will happen or a utility will be shut off.”

Tong added that his office was on the lookout for price gouging and similar profiteering related to the coronavirus.

“It is never OK to take advantage of your neighbors and your community,” Tong said. “It is not OK, and it is illegal to take advantage of people during a public health emergency.” 

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