Census-takers counting on Delawareans; numbers due Sept. 30

GEORGETOWN – The stakes are high in the 2020 U.S. Census, and the current consensus is that Sussex County is way behind in the game.

The clock is ticking, and time is of the essence.

“We literally have 30 days,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long in a virtual update Tuesday. “Please, do the census.”

According to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, U.S census data reports that only 51.5% of Sussex County’s self-response returns of the census have been filed, a number well below Delaware’s other two counties and the nationwide average.

In comparison, New Castle’s self-response rate was 67.8%, with Kent County at 67.2%. Statewide, Delaware’s 62.4% combined response was below the 64% national average.

Mandated under the U.S. Constitution to ensure that Americans receive equal representation at all levels of government, the once-every-decade census count determines U.S. congressional representation and distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds.

“We lose an estimated $10 million a year if we use the former census data from 2010,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “That accumulated up to $100 million. So again, our roads, our transportation, our school lunch money, our health care, our schools.”

Gov. John Carney also urged Delawareans to answer the call.

“Let’s get counted, Delaware,” he said, emphasizing that the task is “to make sure that every Delawarean gets counted, so that we get our fair share of federal funds.”

The First State Community Action Agency, with community partners and expanded staffing that includes five census ambassadors, is spearheading the effort in Sussex and Kent counties.

“We are trying to get into these hard-to-reach communities,” said the agency’s executive director Bernice Edwards. “We’re trying to work with the Latino community. We’re teaming up now.”

The group is relying on community connections.

“We recruited people who were known to hard-to-count communities,” said Jaime Sayler, FSCAA’s director of community development. “We recruited an individual that connected to the Haitian community, the Latino community, seniors and someone who is connected to disconnected youth. These are individuals that people know. They are recognizable figures that are trusted in those communities. We are doing targeted outreach, based on the map that the Census Bureau provides us with.”

Census self-responses can be sent in via phone, mail or internet. Information requested includes name, age, birthdate, origin, gender and number of persons in the household. “Literally six minutes or less, if you do it right and quickly,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said.

Census-taking efforts are now at doorsteps.

“During COVID, we haven’t been able to, until the last three weeks, send someone to your door. So as we have sent someone to your door, we are hoping that you will answer that door,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

Diaz Bonville, a community advocate based in Rehoboth Beach with communication feelers that extend beyond, has undertaken an email campaign.

“What I’ve done is, from my 4,000-plus emails, I sent reminders with information for folks to complete the form. I’ve sent emails to pastors, community leaders, individuals, etc.,” Mr. Bonville said.

FSCCA is partnering with several organizations, including La Esperanza to maximize efforts in the Hispanic population and the Community Resource Center to reach the homeless, residents recently released from incarceration and the Hispanic community, as well as the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement.

First State is conducting table events, with presence at the likes of the Division of Motor Vehicles and gas stations, for mass outreach, piggybacking with existing events and going “door to door to those census blocks that currently have had bad response rates,” said Ms. Sayler. “We definitely are homing in some of our activity down in the beach ZIP codes because that is definitely a challenge.”

In Sussex County, the lowest response rates as of Aug. 27 include Dewey Beach (8.9%), Bethany Beach (14.9%), South Bethany (15.8%), Rehoboth Beach (16.4%) and Fenwick Island (20.8%).

Highest response rates in Sussex communities are Milton (71.5%), Bridgeville (67.9%), Millsboro (63.2%) and Seaford (60%).

“We are really trying to hit those (low-reporting) areas,” Ms. Edwards said. “Right now, it’s on the eastern side of the county.”

Low response rates, particularly in Sussex County’s coastal region, could be attributed to owners of second or vacation homes.

The Census Bureau’s mandate is to count all residents where they live most of the time. The intent is to count a second homeowner only once, in their primary residence. However, for a vacation home or second home, it would be helpful to the Census Bureau if respondents indicate that zero people were living there April 1, 2020.

Another issue may be reluctance in some households to come forward.
Lt. Gov. Hall-Long emphasized that the census is quick, easy and, most importantly, completely private and confidential.

“You don’t have anything to fear,” she said. “They are not going to ask your citizenship status.”

Ms. Sayler agreed, noting that “providing information is not going to reveal your identity or location to anyone that is going to enforce any immigration law.”

U.S. Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham on Aug. 3 announced field data collection will end by Sept. 30 — the final day for responding to the 2020 census either online, via phone, via mail or in person — to permit the commencement of data processing.

Initially, the deadline was mid-July, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced an extension. “The tally is based on … who was in your home as of April 1,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long. “Until a couple weeks ago, we had extended through our congressional leaders and the administration, we were hoping through the end of October. They changed that. We have one month from today (Sept. 1) to count Delawareans.

“A deadline has been set, and we are coming up to it, and we need to get everybody signed up,” she added.

Ms. Sayler said that may be difficult.

“It’s challenging that they cut the deadline like that,” she said.

In addition, concerns and fear amid the pandemic and current political climate loom as nonresponse factors.

“There is the obvious challenge of COVID and people not being open to coming out to events, so we pivoted to door to door. And then, you still get a little resistance that people don’t really want to open the door, because they don’t know — they are fearful,” said Ms. Sayler. “And you obviously have got the political atmosphere that also is affecting response rate.”

Census importance
Population counts are heavily referenced for the purposes of federal and state funding, impacting how much government money is allocated for such things as schools, roads, infrastructure and social programs.

Census results will:
• Show where communities need new schools, new clinics, new roads and more services for families, older adults and children.
• Impact how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs, a list that includes Medicaid, Head Start and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“The money matters, from lunch money, Medicaid, crop insurance — it matters. We need to distribute the money, and we are falling behind in the money that we are receiving based on the fact that we haven’t always been counted,” said Lt. Gov. Hall-Long.

“So please, don’t be undercounted. When you undercount, we lose out,” she said. “And it isn’t just our high-risk communities and our children but it’s also our veterans, our parents, our neighbors.”

Taking the census
To take the census online, via mobile device, tablet or computer, visit my2020census.gov.

By phone, call English, (844) 330-2020; Spanish, (844) 468-2020; or Haitian Creole, (844) 477-2020.

For more information, visit Delaware’s 2020 census website, census.delaware.gov.