LIKE WATCHING the last leg of a nail-biting horse race, it all comes down to that last stretch and that is the current direction of the 2020 Census.
"This is it," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, while giving his colleagues on the Board of Freeholders a 2020 Census status report at the Sept. 9 preboard. "There are only days left to get all of our residents counted in the 2020 Census."
Earlier in the day Vicari thanked all the members of the county's Complete Count Committee for their commitment to get everyone counted.
"While we have exceeded the 2010 Census response rate, we still need to continue this current effort until the end of September," Vicari said. "I want to thank the members of the Complete Count Committee for their participation in doing outreach and promoting the importance of the Census. I am proud to work with each and every one of you."
The Census Bureau will be wrapping up operations on Sept. 30, less than 21 days as of the writing of this release.
"I cannot stress enough how important it is for all of us to be a part of this secure and confidential process," he said. "If you want day care for your children, well maintained infrastructures, a clean environment, good schools, senior assistance, and the list goes on, it all goes back to being counted in the Census.
"We don't have a lot of time left but it's still enough time for people to do the right thing and fill out the forms," Vicari said.
Ocean County has been promoting Census related activities for more than a year when it first created the 2020 Complete Count Committee made up of representatives from towns, non-profits and other organizations tasked with getting the word out.
A recent push in Ocean County to increase participation has included municipal and organizational outreach, social media, websites, and public events throughout the County such as a Census Billboard truck, a Census enumeration event at the Blue Claws stadium that drew thousands of residents, and even a free ice cream distribution event.
In addition, the County has been putting Census outreach grant funds from the state to good use by supporting local food drives, such as Meals on Wheels, Jersey Cares, summer school lunch programs, Ocean County Health Department health clinics and COVID testing, by providing tote bags for the food and Census educational items, and arranging for Census enumerators to assist residents with the Census forms onsite.
The branches of the Ocean County Library are serving as Questionnaire Assistance Centers for those who do not have access to the internet, or need assistance with completing the Census form. The Library branches have trained staff to assist with completing the 2020 Census on designated laptops or on the paper questionnaire.
"First I want to congratulate Ocean County and their partners on beating their 2010 self-response rate of 63.5 percent, said Ryan Edwards, Partnership Specialist for the 2020 Census, New Jersey Field Division. "This was our goal from day one to make sure we increased our self-response rate and even in spite of COVID 19 we accomplished that goal. As of today (Sept. 8) Ocean County self-respond rate is at 65 percent."
Edwards noted that in addition to self-response the Census is conducting non-response follow up to any household that has not responded yet.
As of Sept. 7, over 68 percent of the non-response follow-up workload had been completed in the Toms River Census office area. Census takers also follow up with households that have already responded to improve and ensure accuracy of the census. This is done by both in person visits and outbound phone calls. If anyone is unsure of the Census representative or want to verify their information you can call the local New York City office at (212) 584-3400.
Anyone who still has not completed their Census can still self-respond by going to my2020census.gov, calling the hotline in English at 844-330-2020 or Spanish at 844-468-2020. The Census also just sent out a final paper questionnaire to any household that has yet to respond. The final day to respond is September 30th by any form.
"The Census is also attending community events to help enumerate residents on the spot," Edwards said. "If there are events being planned, the Census staff is available to attend."
Census data affects the allocation of more than $45 billion, or about $5,160 per New Jersey resident, in annual federal funding. Communities receive funds annually for programs and services relating to health, education, housing, infrastructure and much more based on Census data. These programs are critical for a community's most vulnerable members including young children, aging adults, people with disabilities and illnesses and more.
The recent $106 million federal CARES Act aid package to fight the COVID-19 crisis and the Superstorm Sandy Disaster Recovery Grants received by Ocean County are two examples of the kind of federal programs that can be impacted by the Census.
"If states and communities are not fully counted, it could cost them political influence and power as well as money and other resources," Vicari said. "New Jersey could lose a member of Congress. Giving up political power could mean losing out on access to all kinds of resources – without a chance to fix the problem for 10 years."
Vicari said that everyone living in the United States has the right to be counted in the 2020 Census and the data is all strictly confidential.
"Every part of the Census, from enumeration to the Census data itself, is protected by Federal Law under Title 13," Vicari said. "The information on the census questionnaire cannot be used for any other purpose or shared with any other institutions or agencies.
"If you haven't filled out your Census yet, it's important that you do so right now," Vicari said.