PATERSON, NJ – After the U.S. Census Bureau announced plans to end its count a month earlier than expected, local and county officials are making a push to ensure the area’s hard-to-reach groups are represented.

The count will now end on Sept. 30 and the bureau will end all surveying efforts, including door-knocking and collecting responses over the phone, online and by mail, Director Steven Dillingham said in a written statement posted on the bureau’s website. 

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the count was scheduled to be finished by the end of July, but in April the bureau said it needed to extend its timeline and push back its completion to Oct. 31. Earlier this week, the bureau issued its update, saying it is part of its efforts to “accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts” by its statutory deadline of Dec. 31, he said. 

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“It appears that President Trump will stop at nothing to punish the families that most need assistance,” Mayor Andre Sayegh told TAPinto Paterson. “Our city is on the verge of a renaissance that will leave no person behind, and will start with us leaving no stone unturned in efforts to get every Patersonian counted.”

With counting efforts already delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, that leaves less than two months to try and reach people of color, immigrants, renters and other historically undercounted groups that are unlikely to fill out a census form on their own.

“It was supposed to end on Halloween. Now we’re getting a trick, instead of a treat, so we have to double down our efforts,” Sayegh said on Thursday morning.

While the response rate to the 2020 Census is high in suburban parts of New Jersey, returns in cities remain low, which can cause communities to miss out or receive less federal aid than they deserve.

Paterson is among the Garden State’s “hard-to-count” communities, which are areas where a low percentage of residents complete the census, according to an estimate by The Fund for New Jersey, a public policy group. 

About 22% of New Jersey residents—or about 1.9 million—live in hard-to-count areas, including a disproportionate number of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and children under 5. Other groups that are more likely to be missed include immigrants, people in multi-family housing, non-native English speakers and homeless people.

Since mid-March, when the once-in-a-decade population count kicked off, 49.1% of Paterson residents have submitted their responses, compared with 65% of households across New Jersey.  

With seven weeks to go before deadline strikes, Sayegh said the city will ramp up outreach efforts. During a Facebook Live stream, Sayegh reminded residents to take a few minutes to complete their forms and stressed the importance of a complete count.

“There’s strength in numbers. You’re important and you count,” Sayegh told his social media followers

Responses to the census are used by the federal government to determine population, how citizens are represented, how legislative districts are drawn and where more than $45 billion in annual federal funding will go in New Jersey.

In Paterson, Sayegh said the funding could have numerous uses, including building new schools to address overcrowding issues in existing buildings, resurfacing busy roadways and investing in public safety.

Additionally, the mayor pointed out, businesses use census data to determine where to build stores, offices, and manufacturing facilities and developers will look to the data when planning new construction.

In 2013, the state lost a seat in the House of Representatives, after losing another a decade earlier. New Jersey now has 12 congressional districts – the lowest number since 1933 – which limits the state’s impact on federal decisions.

“There are many benefits to a complete and accurate count,” Sayegh said. “But we are nowhere near where we should be.” 

Currently, Paterson ranks 272nd in New Jersey for its response rate.

The response rates in the 1st, 4th and 5th wards are particularly low when compared with the rest of the city, according to Sayegh.

Up to the count’s deadline, Sayegh said residents who haven’t yet responded should anticipate receiving a knock on their door from a census enumerator – or from Sayegh himself.

In Passaic County, the response rate is 63.6% so far and about 52.5% of respondents did so online. 

Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett, who is spearheading census efforts on behalf of the freeholder board, said, “When we’re all counted, there’s more for schools, for hospitals and better representation in Congress.”

Bartlett also pointed out that the county’s 500,000+ population rate allowed for it to be eligible for funding under the CARES Act to help in the fight against COVID-19.

During the 2010 Census, 67.6% of New Jersey responded, far fell below the national rate of 74%. About 59% of Paterson residents participated in the count.

While the US Census Bureau has estimated that just 31,000 New Jersey residents were left uncounted a decade ago, public testimony at a hearing of the New Jersey Complete Count Commission offered that at least one million children were left out. By bureau estimates, a state misses out on about $1,800 per year for every person not counted in the census.

In order to reach the “hard-to-count” communities, the U.S. Census Bureau has partnered with local organizations, religious institutions, businesses, mayor’s offices and other officials to conduct educational outreach.

For more information or to respond to the census visit https://my2020census.gov/.

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