The City and a Complete Count Committee kicked off the Census 2020 efforts for Chelsea on Saturday, Nov. 16, in an effort to get the message out early and often to those in the community that might be hesitant or unwilling to fill out the Census.
By order of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Department of Commerce is required every 10 years to do a full count to the extent possible of every person in the United States as of April 1.
In Chelsea during the past several decades, the City has been drastically undercounted in its official population due to people not filling out or responding to the Census. Because federal funding relies upon Census counts, that undercounting has resulted in Chelsea losing millions of dollars in federal funds over time – particularly money that would go to the schools and for street/sidewalk repairs as community block grants.
Chelsea has been, historically, one of the most difficult communities to count accurately in the state – primarily due to language barriers and hesitancy to participate by the immigrant community.
“We need to start early and try to anticipate concerns and address them and promote what the Census is and why it’s important,” said Cate Fox-Lent, the liaison to the Census for the City of Chelsea. “We know there will be people with lots of questions and concerns about whether they are eligible and if it’s safe.”
To help with that, the City has formed a Complete Count Committee with 80 local leaders from faith communities, non-profits, community centers, schools, and advisory boards. The hope is that those local leaders, who already have the trust of groups that are hard to count, will be able to convey how important the Census 2020 is to the local schools and community. That suggestion was brought about in a study by the Gaston Institute at UMass Boston – which studied the efforts to count to the Latino population and what might work best.
“City Hall is not the most trusted place for a lot of people who might be scared to go there,” she said. “Even though we have money for the effort, we would be pushing that money into the hands of community leaders so they can support the City and help to dispel rumors and myths that show up on social media.”
Georgia Lowe of the New York Regional Census Center – which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce – said the Census information is protected, and all workers swear to that under oath.
“The information you provide is safe and cannot be released, even to law enforcement,” she said. “Our workers take an oath sworn for life to protect data.”
The effort will also translate into an advertising campaign featuring people from Chelsea, calling on their friends and families to fill out the Census. Those will be featured in print, radio and television ads.
This time around, the Census will also be easier than ever – featuring only eight questions.
“It will be only eight questions and should only take a few minutes for most people,” Fox-Lent said. “Even if they’re hesitant to fill it out online and don’t want to use their cell phone or their home computer because it could present issues, they can use a library computer or we might distribute laptops to churches or other organizations.”
The Census 2020 effort will begin on March 12, when mailings go out to each household inviting them to respond to online or by phone to the Census. A paper copy of the Census will then go out, and if there is still no response, employees from Census 2020 will begin canvassing the neighborhood and knocking on doors to get a count. By mid-July, the count will be drawn to a close.
The Census 2020 effort will be making history this time around as it plunges into the digital age.
For generations, the Census has been a paper or face-to-face operation, but in 2020, respondents will be able to go online to fill it out for the first time in history.
Georgia Lowe of the US Census 2020 said this is the first time they have added an online component and they hope it helps to count hard populations – such as newly arrived immigrant groups and those who don’t necessarily trust government and government buildings.
In Chelsea, that will likely mean that people can fill out the Census using their phones, or they may have laptops at non-profits or places of worship to help allay fears and build trust.
All of that will hopefully equal a higher rate of responses this time for Chelsea.