Census participation urged, numbers reported to be low

Sign in Williamsville invites people to become census takers although the field campaign is currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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BRATTLEBORO — Officials are urging participation in the census as local numbers are currently coming in low.

Last week in his regular COVID-19 Response Status updates, Town Manager Peter Elwell said Windham County had the second lowest census response rate in Vermont.

At the time, the rate was at 24.9 percent. As of Tuesday morning, it was at

27.9 percent, according to the United States Census Bureau.

"The results of the 2020 Census will help determine our eligibility for billions of dollars in federal funding to flow into our community, county, and state every year for the next decade," Elwell wrote. "This money means better health care, schools, roads, job opportunities, housing assistance, disaster assistance and more. With so much at stake, every response counts!"

State Representatives John Gannon, D-Windham-6, and Emilie Kornheiser, D-Windham-2-1, are part of the Complete County Committee. The group began as part of an executive order by the governor and appointments were made by the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Kornheiser pointed to two different ways populations can be difficult to count.

"One of them is populations that are economically marginalized folks who move a lot, folks who feel sort of disconnected from government, racial minorities," she said, "then really rural populations are a second hard to count population. Windham County has both of those things together."

Kornheiser said Windham County has less infrastructure than bigger counties like Chittenden to help with outreach. Gannon noted as of Tuesday, Vermont had the fifth lowest response rate in the country; it was at 41.5 percent.

The two lawmakers are trying to educate Windham County residents about taking the census.

"And I think we need to be more about that," Gannon said, adding that Dover, Jamaica, Stratton, Wardsboro and Wilmington still have response rates in the single digits.

Kornheiser said part of the outreach effort includes highlighting the importance of getting adequate federal resources. She used the coronavirus pandemic as an example where funding assistance has to do with population sizes.

Gannon counted 55 federal programs that are in some way calculated using census data. The list includes Medicaid, Head Start, student loans, and highway planning and construction.

Kornheiser said information from the census also helps academic researchers understand how policy works.

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During the Select Board's first regular meeting of the month, Elwell said census taking started April 1 and happens every 10 years. Acknowledging that people are distracting coping with the current state of affairs related to the coronavirus pandemic, he noted it is important to still participate in the census.

Board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin, who was census taker 10 years ago, said the pandemic is "a perfect example of why we need the census and why people need aid from the federal government."

"Let's do it and let's be counted and let's get what we need from the federal government," she said at the meeting.

To participate, visit 2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020. Questionnaires can also be mailed in. A deadline for submissions has been extended from Oct. 31 to July 31.

Staff at the Brooks Memorial Library Staff can help people access the census questionnaire. For assistance, call 802-254-5290 ext.1206 or email info@brookslibraryvt.org.

Kornheiser described the questionnaire as simple to complete.

"It's just a few questions," she said.

The surveys collect information about the residents of each housing unit and how they are related, according to census.gov.

Kornheiser said statute protects the confidentiality of those who participate in the census.

"We need to really help people understand the census is incredibly trustworthy," she said, encouraging those with concerns or questions to reach out to her or Gannon. "I think Vermonters, many of them, are very private people. And I think a lot of people are hesitant about giving their information out."

Gannon pointed out that in 2010, Windham County had a 57.3 percent response rate compared to Chittenden County's 79.3 percent.

"So we hurt ourselves by not responding as a county," he said.

The field campaign is temporarily suspended until it is more appropriate for census takers to be out knocking on doors again, Kornheiser said, adding that "some really great paying jobs" will be available once that work starts up again.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.