Coronavirus a hurdle in Delaware’s Census initiative

DOVER — In the current world of uncertainty, one thing is certain: every person in Delaware counts.

A delayed countdown is on for the U.S. Census, a once-every-decade data gathering that determines U.S. congressional representation and distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds.

“It takes six minutes; 10 questions,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long. “It might take a little longer if you have a large family.”

The count is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency.

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long, who was appointed by Gov. John Carney to lead the Governor’s Complete Count Commission, says the mission is to ensure every living person in Delaware is counted.

Obviously, complete 100-percent participation is an extreme longshot, and this year’s Census process faces unprecedented challenge brought on by the coronavirus crisis.

“It would be a dream to have the 100 percent. I think in our best years our results have been around 80 to 82 percent, which is a great number, particularly during a pandemic, to have that occur,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

COVID-19 has shuffled the timeline cards in the 2020 U.S. Census deck, which this year includes three options for responding: online; by phone or by mail.

Because of stay-at-home orders designed to combat the coronavirus, the Census Bureau put off hiring and training temporary census takers in mid-March. Census takers won’t start knocking on doors of people who haven’t answered the questionnaire until later this summer. The Census bureau pushed back the deadline to wrap up the count from the end of July to the end of October.

“Our Census day, our launch was in the midst of COVID, April 1,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “So that has been bumped back and right now it is fluid. Thank goodness the Congress recognizes that we need an accurate Census and deadline for it is Oct. 31 of this year.”

“They are still evaluating and looking at how the numbers are rising and if the need is to extend it longer,” said Laura Wisniewski, Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Lt. Governor’s Office.

As in past Census years, the Office of State Planning is involved. State Planning Director Connie Holland and her team are also helping to facilitate this process, said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

Delaware’s Census effort is enlisting cooperative efforts and committee-based support from numerous state agencies, stakeholders, elected officials along with First State Community Action Agency and other community-centered nonprofits.

“What is challenging around COVID is a lot of those who sit at that same table can share with you the stories of COVID and how it has impacted them,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “The committees have had to really reformulate the plan. A shout out to our committees because they have jumped in and they have modified what we are doing. In Kent and Sussex, we did that through First State Community Action with community ambassadors,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

As of early May, Delaware was slightly below the national average in Census reporting.

“Our team has modified, so right now I am proud to say that we are around 53 percent reporting. We are a little behind the country, about 56 percent nationally reporting,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

New Castle County, the most populated of Delaware’s three counties, is slightly ahead at 57 percent, with Kent County coming in at 55 percent. Sussex County is the lower one and a lot of that is because of the beach area.

“The area that we have some challenge is the beach community. Keep in mind there is a lot of secondary property, so we are always going to lag behind,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “Our other challenge is our hard to count and our special populations — our incarcerated, homeless, our veterans or our seniors who are not aware that they can actually pick the phone up. So, we’ve tried various campaigns. We have hired individuals who are reflective of their community. We have diverse ambassadors ready to go.”

“Right now, we don’t have community ambassadors going door to door because of the COVID,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “Keep in mind we went to a new tool this year. So not only did we go from everyone getting mailed their census, this is the first year everything has been electronic. That is good and bad. That is really good for millennials, working folks who are tied at home in isolation. It’s a fun thing to do.”

“So, with COVID, if you’re isolated it can be a good thing,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said. “With COVID, and you’re isolated, it can be a bad thing, because the people who are not paying attention to social media — perhaps our senior population, our veterans, obviously the homeless, the hard to count — that has been a challenge. We don’t have the door-to-door ambassador. But they are not sitting idle. We have an amazing group of individuals on the commission and they have come up with some brilliant social media, some digital media and the ambassadors also have a plan in place. They are working with their ambassadors on different strategies.”

“As soon as we are gradually reopening whenever that occurs in the state, those individuals will not only go out as our state community ambassadors working whether through the county or however, they will also be with the federal numerator,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said.

Another problem is with special populations. “We were way under-counted before with our children,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “We also want to make sure every person who is residing, regardless of their status and documentation is also counted. We have strategies in place to make sure people know that this is private, and it is confidential. It is really important that they be counted.”

College students factor in the Census equation, encompassing those at the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.

“We are able to count the college students who are on our campuses, our residential campuses like Del State and UD. None of them were open in the traditional format,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said. “All of those students that we wanted to count at the University of Delaware and at Del State, many of them may not have counted themselves here. So, our numbers might be a little lower. We still could get some of them to be counted but it’s a lot trickier.”

“The students that are in the dormitories will still be counted. It is the ones that are off campus that we are still trying to target,” said Ms. Wisniewski. “The University of Delaware, DSU and all our colleges have been really great with working with us to send out emails to their students to remind them even if they are home to go online to fill out their census, they were on their off campus housing since it is the place they predominately reside during the year.”

An accurate Census count for Delaware is vital to many programs that affect the state, including areas of health care, food, education, roads and bridges, congressional representation and much more.

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long noted that federal funding and support during such major events as the current pandemic are tied to population.

“If you talk to our U.S. senators, our congresswoman, our governor or myself, we really do rely on this … to feed, to shelter, to provide infrastructure, agriculture. Particularly, I believe more than ever we rely … we’re seeing this now with this pandemic, you are seeing where states leaderships along with even local and county governments really play a significant role,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “Sometimes, whether it is a pandemic or a disaster response, or if it is basic planning with municipal zoning and infrastructure, everybody turns to the census. Again, this isn’t just a state and federal issue. This really goes down to the personal level and to your local community. So, we need that. It is imperative.”

On a broader scale nationally, the Census is a determining factor in representation in the United States congress. “It is really important. If you go over a million, in our populous, we are in the queue then for consideration for an additional member of Congress as well. That is something that is very important. Certainly, when that happens another state’s population has to decline. We do have the potential to get another member of Congress,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

Delaware’s 2020 Census was boosted by a $650,000 budget allocation authorized by the state legislature, coupled with additional funds through matching partnerships.

“In the years past we did not have the funding,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “Members of General Assembly and our governor saw the real value and funds were earmarked and put in the budget to allow to do these things in our counties. That funding was supportive of the media, the printing, the community ambassadors that are necessary. So, for a small amount of funding, hopefully we can really up and bring in more money based on our strategic planning.”

In addition to the $650,000 from the state, there was a match partnership through businesses and philanthropic donations and in-kind support as well, said Ms. Wisniewski.

“Everybody recognizes the value, and we were under-counted and under-funded in years past …,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

Information is available at Census.delaware.gov — the state’s award-winning website devoted to Delaware’s census effort. The website this summer will receive the Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award from the ESRI company that houses the state’s website. Delaware was among honorees chosen from more than 100,000 websites throughout the nation.

For more information about the Delaware Census, visit: www.Census.delaware.gov.

To fill out your census online, visit: www.my2020census.gov.

By phone:

•1-844-330-2020 – to complete your census by phone in English;

•1-844-468-2020 – to complete your census by phone in Spanish;

•1-844-477-2020 – to complete your census by phone in Haitian Creole;

•Additional phone numbers are available at: https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond/responding-by-phone.html

“Again, we want to emphasize that this is private, this is confidential, and this maters to you,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “It has been extended. You have not missed it. You are not too late.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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