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Census data collection moving forward despite challenges, shortened timeline

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/21/2020 4:52:39 PM
Modified: 8/21/2020 4:52:26 PM

The deadline for the U.S. Census has been moved up a month and that means households who haven’t responded to the questionnaire can expect a knock at the door over the next six weeks.

The deadline for all Census data to be collected had been set for the end of October, pushed back from the final day of July due to COVID-19. Then in July, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the decision to move up the final date for the once-a-decade count to Sept. 30.

It is not an ideal situation, but Jeff Behler, NY Regional Director for the Census, said things are moving forward over the final month and a half.

“We will account for every household at the end of the Census,” Behler said.

Behler said the best way for Census information to be accurately gathered is through the self-response option online or over the phone. Through Monday’s most recent data, New Hampshire had a self-reporting percentage of 63.7 with Hillsborough County coming in at 71.7 percent and Cheshire County 63.6, higher for both counties than 2010.

“That’s the highest quality data we can get at the lowest cost to the taxpayer,” Behler said. “And really over the last month, New Hampshire has improved dramatically.”

The goal is to have every household in the country respond with all the information needed to check a specific address off the list. As Beheler said, self responses ensure that, but for whatever reason many people have not responded and that’s where the pounding the pavement approach comes into play.

Behler said one thing about New Hampshire’s rural nature that can make it challenging is the fact that the Census does not mail questionnaires to PO Boxes along with the number of second homes. And one thing Behler wanted to express was that the Census needs a response from every household, even if it’s from a second home with a response of zero.

“We do need to get a response from that housing unit,” Behler said.

For households they have not received a response from, Behler said Census workers will be out knocking on doors to try and collect information in person.

Those who don’t answer the door, workers will leave a message with information on how to self respond online or over the phone, but not full questionnaires.

Behler said he understands there is hesitation on some people’s part about answering a knock on the door given the current pandemic, and that is where the self-response option becomes the best way of reporting a household’s information. Behler said he expects an uptick in the count once people receive a note on their door from a Census worker. But if they don’t get one, he said workers will continue to go to homes until information is collected.

The original plan for workers to knock on doors was from May 13 to the middle of July, but it also had to be pushed back due to the coronavirus. On March 15, workers started hand delivering Census information, but had to stop two days later, Behler said, and it didn’t resume until May.

“Like with everything else during COVID-19, that was not safe,” Behler said.

Typically they would work with community partners like businesses, local organizations and churches to help get the word out, but that has not proven to be as effective in 2020.

“There’s not a lot of opportunities to engage the community,” he said.

If there is no response, Behler said they will use other methods to establish accurate information, going to a knowledgeable proxy like a neighbor or mail carrier in hopes of collecting the necessary data. Those are the last ditch efforts, but ones that are needed to make sure every person is accounted for.

“I’m truly confident we’ll be able to get that done by Sept. 30,” Behler said.

Behler said they Census is still hiring and training people and will continue to do so through August. The training is different in light of the coronavirus pandemic, as are the procedures. Workers must wear masks and then back up six feet to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“We have the resources we need to get people out there knocking on doors,” he said. “And we have more than enough applicants throughout New Hampshire to get it done.”

Kate Coon of Peterborough and Chairperson of the Peterborough Plus unit of League of Women Voters, had been heading a Census Complete Count Committee in the area. Things were going well until a few months ago when the pandemic shifted the way of getting the word out. They held a Census and voter registration event outside of Shaw’s pre-COVID because she knows how much it matters.

“We haven’t forgotten,” Coon said. “It’s important. It’s 10 years worth of data and we need to get it right.”

Part of her reasoning getting involved was because of the impact the count has locally and understanding the challenges that the rural nature of New Hampshire presents.

“This is the first time its been able to be done online, but as we know, that doesn’t get to everybody,” Coon said.

While this year has presented a number of extra challenges than when the Census was last conducted in 2010, Behler stressed the importance of collecting accurate data.

Not only just for getting a precise picture of the U.S. population, but what those numbers are used for. Behler said Census data boils down to two key things – representation and funding. Statistics gathered during the Census are used to determine a state’s number of representatives and for redistricting purposes.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding can disseminate using Census data collection,” Behler said. And that also means funding for roads and bridges, food stamps and reduced school lunches, and hospitals.

“I can’t think of a better way to invest in your local hospital than taking five minutes to ensure funding for the next 10 years,” he said.

To self-respond to the 2020 Census and for more information, visit https://www.census.gov/.


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