CAMDEN, NJ — Unlike sporting events, commencement ceremonies and music festivals, the census count can’t be canceled or postponed.
Shakeups from COVID-19 have been felt far and wide as cases statewide reached 427 on Wednesday afternoon.
For one, Camden Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, who has spearheaded census efforts in the county since last year, wears another hat locally too: liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“I won’t say it has completely ended our initiatives but the health and safety of our residents is priority,” Rodriguez told TAPinto Camden. “It has of course completely interrupted plans we had, such as knocking on doors to get the word out and other examples of outreach we had prepared leading up to April 1.”
On that date, roughly half a million census workers will set out on a decade-defining count throughout the US with $675 billion in annual allocated funds hanging in the balance.
Those funds extend to public health, education, and transportation improvements, as well as having implications for businesses considering where to open new locations.
The census data also determines the number of voting seats a state gets in the House of Representatives and the electoral college. Ten years ago, the Garden State was among those that lost a congressional seat.
Filling out from home
In the count's favor this year is technology. It will be the first time since the census began in 1790 that people will be able to fill the form out online.
“The public is strongly encouraged to respond to the 2020 Census online using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, and can also respond by phone or mail,” U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said Wednesday in an update.
Census workers, which the bureau said it will work to keep safe, will also make use of mobile phone apps while in the field.
Residents can visit 2020census.gov to fill out the census, which takes about 10 minutes.
The survey does not require a person’s social security, nor ask for money, donations or anything on behalf of a political party or their bank or credit card number.
Enumerators that help in the county are sworn in and face a fine of up to $250,000 and five years of incarceration were they to reveal any information.
Per census rules, no one will be able to view the records until 2092.
Census inquiries include the number of people living or staying in your home, whether your home is owned or rented, the sex, age and race of each person in your home, whether the person in your home is Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin, and the relationship of each person in your home.
Invitations to fill out the census will arrive in your mailbox at some point in March if they haven't already.
“Everyone should respond to the 2020 Census as soon as they receive their invitation — and when they’re finished, they can make sure their friends, families and social networks know about the importance of responding,” said Dillingham.
In Camden, closures throughout the county have also complicated matters, Rodriguez noted.
School buildings and libraries, for instance, would normally help provide internet access for anyone wanting to complete the census online.
“The census already undercounts minority populations and these are not only the groups that need the most resources but also those that are very concerned and dealing with the impacts of COVID-19,” Rodriguez said. “I’m hoping things calm down because this count will affect the next ten years, but right now what’s important is the health of the county, city and everyone in our municipalities.”
Anyone who cannot access the internet to fill out the census can call 1-800-354-7271.