UNION COUNTY, NJ — The 2020 census, a once-a-decade system of counting every person living in the United States, is still underway. The U.S. Census Bureau and local officials are urging all residents to complete the census questionnaire.
This is the first census with the option of replying online. According to its website, the Census Bureau counts the population in the United States and five territories — Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each home should have received an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire, either online, by phone or by mail.
The census provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers and many others use to provide daily services, products and support to their communities. Every year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other resources based on census data. The results of the census also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and they are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.
U.S. Census Bureau public affairs specialist Veronica Vaquer explained that the deadline to respond to the 2020 census is Oct. 31.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Census Bureau has adjusted 2020 census operations in order to protect the health and safety of the American public and Census Bureau employees; implement guidance from federal, state and local authorities regarding COVID-19; and ensure a complete and accurate count of all communities.
Originally, the self-response phase — whether online, by phone or by mail — was scheduled for March 12 through July 31. The new schedule is March 12 through Oct. 31.
According to the 2020 census website, participating in the census is required by law. A complete and accurate count is critical for all residents in every community, because the results of the 2020 census will affect community funding, congressional representation and a host of other things.
The total self-response rate for New Jersey, as of May 31, is 62.5 percent; Union County’s total self-response rate is 64.3 percent.
The response rates of individual municipalities in Union County are as follows: Clark at 77.2 percent; Cranford at 78.2 percent; Elizabeth at 50.7 percent; Fanwood at 79.2 percent; Garwood at 69.3 percent; Hillside at 59.4 percent; Kenilworth at 73.6 percent; Linden at 62.2 percent; Mountainside at 77.9 percent; New Providence at 78.7 percent; Plainfield at 51.1 percent; Rahway at 59.2 percent; Roselle at 40.4 percent; Roselle Park at 69.2 percent; Springfield at 73 percent; Summit at 72.7 percent; Union Township at 70 percent; Westfield at 78.7 percent; and Winfield at 77.9 percent. The Census Bureau website did not have statistics available for Berkeley Heights or Scotch Plains.
Mayors of Union County towns and cities have all spoken up about the importance of the 2020 census.
Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese considers everyone when it comes to the census.
“The census is a snapshot of each community and provides important data for our future,” Vertreese said on May 29. “For every person that does not answer, it reduces the dollar value for everyone else. Access to health care, grant funding to hire and/or supplement police and firefighters, money to fix roads and infrastructure, schools are all connected to the census. Our answers help federal and state officials fight for us as they seek funding.
“This pandemic enlightens how much we needed all levels of our government whereby hospitals, schools, public service providers are all in jeopardy,” she continued. “In order to make sure we can accurately service our citizens going forward for the next 10 years, it is most important for people to answer today in order to provide additional security for tomorrow.”
Summit Mayor Nora Radest laid out three reasons for residents to complete the census.
“The census is important for three reasons,” Radest said on May 30. “First, the census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities each year. Second, the results determine how many seats in Congress each state gets. Third, it is mandated by the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 2. The U.S. has counted its population every 10 years since 1790. In this time of crisis, it is clear that federal aid is crucial to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus, and if Summit reports an undercount of our population, we do not receive our fair share of the funding.”
Roselle Park Mayor Joseph Signorello III cited New Jersey federal taxes as a main reason to complete the census.
“The census is important because New Jerseyans pay exorbitant sums of money to the federal government only to see pennies on the dollar return,” Signorello said on May 31. “Being counted in the census is the only way we’re able to get our fair share of federal dollars.”
Garwood Mayor Sara Todisco said this process ensures that New Jersey’s voice is heard at a higher level.
“Completing the 2020 census form is of paramount importance,” Todisco said on May 31. “It is vital that we are counted accurately, as that has a direct correlation with how much of our federal tax dollars we get back in New Jersey. Also, it ensures proper representation of congressional leaders who can make sure New Jersey’s voice is heard at the federal level.”
Springfield Mayor Chris Capodice referred to the support of first responders and coronavirus recovery as a vital reason for an accurate count.
“The census is not only our civic duty, but it also helps ensure our town gets its fair share of federal funding,” said Capodice on June 1. “The proper allocation of resources helps support our first responders, as well as COVID-19 recovery. This funding would also help our community plan for our future, as well as maintain the appropriate level of representation in our state and national government.”
Cranford Mayor Patrick Giblin shared the same views. “The census is important, as it determines political representation and funding,” Giblin said on June 1.
Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle agreed. “Now, more than ever, it’s important that we are all counted to ensure our fair share of federal funding and government representation,” Brindle said on June 1.
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead gave a detailed history of Linden and why the census is important in his city.
“According to the census viewer maps, as of July 1, 2019, census data shows the Linden population at 42,361,” Armstead said on June 2, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic could affect response rates and that the city needs to use “various innovative methods that are aimed toward using a grassroots approach to reach families and hard-to-count populations. As mayor, I understand that the census is important and critical to state and local funding that must be commensurate in meeting Linden’s emergent needs to be noted from present and beyond. This means that an accurate and timely count is critical, especially with the anticipated growth plans for the city.
“It would be a travesty should Linden not be allocated federal budgeting dollars that we anticipate receiving due to an increased count as the face of Linden is rapidly changing due to recent growth as Linden is becoming more densely populated at a more rapid rate,” he continued. “Without an accurate census count, federal money provided to states and local government will be distributed incorrectly, creating for Linden funding shortages that will potentially impact the city adversely overall.”
According to Winfield Township Mayor Margaret McManus, her town relies on the census.
“Winfield is the smallest town in Union County, with no ratables,” McManus said on June 2. “We rely on our residents to complete the census, because we rely on federal funding for infrastructure grants, DOT grants, etc.”
For more information on the 2020 census and ways to complete it, visit www.2020census.gov. To complete the questionnaire by phone, call 844-330-2020; to complete the questionnaire in a language other than English, visit the census website to find the correct phone number.