NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - It takes a village to count a city.
At least that's what census officials said Monday night at a meeting with city organizers and civic leaders as New Brunswick begins to prepare for the decennial enumeration of its population.
The Census 2020 Complete Count Committee meeting at city council chambers focused on not only the partnership between national, state and city officials but also the need for civic, religious, educational and other local groups and organization to help in the city's census.
Representatives of New Brunswick Tomorrow, the New Brunswick area NAACP, the New Brunswick Free Public Library, Rutgers' Strategic Communication and Initiatives department and others who attended the meeting with census officials are being asked to assist in, among other things, encouraging people in the city to participate in the census.
Kevin Derricotte, a partnership specialist for the New York Regional Census Center, and the other members of the U.S. Census Bureau at the meeting used the term "trusted messenger" to describe these civic leaders.
Toward the end of the meeting, these "trusted messengers" were handed sheets of paper asking them how they will "help New Brunswick count." They had the choice of checking off boxes such as hosting census job fairs, offer space for education or information sessions, assist with address canvassing or offering computers and space for residents to fill out the census.
How many people live in New Brunswick will be the $22.7 billion question. Well, at least the final count will be used to decide how much federal money the city will receive.
Eric Kipnis, manager of constituent relations for New Jersey's Department of State, said that the top 55 federal-funded programs in New Jersey in 2016 were dependent on the 2010 census data and amounted to $22.7 billion.
"That money funds things such as health care, roads highways, schools, food programs, education," Kipnis said. "It runs the gamut of the kind of programs that are important to the state and it affects everybody. That's why we need to understand that getting the county right is so, so important."
The census findings are also used to determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives, it defines congressional and state legislative districts and voting districts.
The United States has been conducting the census every 10 years since 1790 and counts every person based on where they "live and sleep most of the time." Census officials said this will be the first time census information can be entered online or via telephone.
Updating the census process is one thing. Getting an accurate total of the number of people living in New Brunswick is another.
Peter Chen, policy counsel for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said there is a "fair amount" of mistrust for state and federal government officials among groups such as homeless or undocumented residents - groups labeled hardest to count by the Census Bureau.
"It's not a huge surprise that if a federal employee knocks on the door and says, 'Excuse me, I would like all the information about your name, your age, the names of all your kids, the ages of all your kids and your racial and ethnic background.' People may not want to answer those questions," he said.
So that's where the "trusted messengers" come in. He said that in some areas of the country, religious leaders are trusted messengers. In others, they're doctors and other health care professionals. They're typically able to organize residents because of their status.
New Brunswick will have another typically hard-to-count population: off-campus students.
With thousands of Rutgers students living inside the city, getting them to participate in the census could prove difficult.
"For those students who may think, 'Well, I'm not really a New Brunswick student. I'm just here for a couple of years and I'm out of here.' They still need to be counted in 2020," Chen said.
Keith Jones II, the newly appointed chief of staff in New Brunswick, said the Complete Count Committee will continue meeting each month. The committee's efforts are important because the April 1 Census Day is not that far away.
"It's really important for what we do for the residents of New Jersey and for the residents of New Brunswick, whether it's the child care programs or the education or the health or the infrastructure," Jones said. "It's extremely important and trusted messengers is the new word."