STONINGTON — The Board of Selectmen has approved the formation of a “Complete Count” committee that will focus on getting an accurate 2020 census count for the town, especially of residents who may be hesitant to be counted.
The committee will consist of the First Selectman, the registrars of voters, the Stonington Human Services director, and the directors of the Stonington Community Center, and the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, among others.
“It’s my understanding that the underserved population in our community often avoids registering for the census,” First Selectman Rob Simmons said at the board's meeting on Wednesday. “The registrars, town committees and human services providers tend to have a better contact with this population.”
Eva Bunnell, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, told selectmen it was important that communities form committees because "trusted voices” are needed to get a complete count.
She said an online census map called the Response Outreach Area Mapper has shown that some areas of Stonington have a “low response” score of 20 percent or more.
“That doesn’t mean they won’t be counted, it just means they most likely won’t self-respond,” Bunnell said. “That’s why you need your trusted voices talking to them.”
“We engage trusted voices to help areas where the Census Bureau predicts people will be hard to count,” she said in explaining the bureau's Complete Count program. “They are your census ambassadors. They can share information that the 2020 census is coming, and that it’s safe.”
Bunnell also emphasized that all information taken by in the surveys is protected by federal law, and that the bureau is prohibited from sharing anything that would identify a person or household “with anyone on any level.”
Simmons asked where the bureau stands on the issue that has arisen on the federal level regarding the counting of undocumented persons or illegal aliens who could be residing in the community.
The U.S. Constitution, Bunnell said, mandates that the government count every inhabitant living in the United States and noted that the census has been taken every 10 years since 1790.
“So we count everyone,” she said. “Whether or not a citizenship question is on or off the 2020 census remains with the courts right now.”
She added that regardless of whether there is a citizenship question on the survey, all answers are protected by the federal code.
“We are prohibited from sharing anything that identifies a person or a household with any federal, state or local agency, including law enforcement and ICE or a court system on any level,” Bunnell stated. “We take privacy and confidentiality very, very seriously.”
“It’s at the core of our democracy,” Bunnell said of the census. “It determines the seats each state receives in the House of Representatives, it determines the boundaries of our state legislative and voting precincts and school districts.”
Decennial data also determines each state’s share of the $675 billion of federal dollars that are allocated every year for a 10-year period, Bunnell said.
“Every person counts because every dollar counts,” she said.
Simmons said, “So if we fail to count some of the folks, we fail to get our fair share of those dollars.”
Simmons said that the town's IT manager, who will also be on the committee, will manage computers at the Human Services office and that they will be available for people who need them to register for the 2020 census online.
Complete Count committees seek to use local knowledge and resources to educate communities and promote the census through locally based, targeted outreach efforts.
Simmons said the 10-member committee will convene in September.