OCEAN COUNTY – Every person counts. Literally.
It only happens every 10 years and officials are now taking extra measures to ensure that every possible Ocean County resident is counted in the upcoming 2020 Census.
Every year since 1790, as mandated in the United States Constitution, local, state, and federal government officials work together to form an accurate count of every individual living in the US.
The census will take place next on April 1, 2020.
On August 7, Ocean County officials came together with members of the US Census Bureau and New York Regional Census Center to introduce the 2020 Complete Count Committee and give residents a run-down of how the intake works.
“Participation is critical,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari. “The results of the Census determine how Congress is apportioned and how federal and state funding is distributed. These two factors are key in us obtaining our fair share of funding for vital programs and services.”
Vicari, who is helping to lead the County’s 2020 Census Count efforts, noted that the decennial census is “extremely important,” serving as the “blueprint of what’s going to take place in Ocean County.”
This is Vicari’s third go-around with Ocean County’s Census Count as a longtime public official.
“We have roughly 600,000 people in Ocean County, we want to make sure that every person is counted,” he said.
The Census Is Safe, Easy, and Important
Presenting at the kickoff meeting was Jeff Behler, Director of the New York Regional Census Center. The New York Regional Census Center is one of six census data collecting agencies in the US, alongside Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Behler provided an overview of what it means to participate.
“A lot of censuses are national but we have to work with people at the local level,” in order to obtain an accurate representation, said Behler.
Some ways that the Census Bureau is doing this is by hiring locally to work within the individual communities to survey and collect census data. The 2020 Census team will be presenting Ocean County residents with anywhere from 1,400-1,500 job openings to help with this.
Not only this, but officials are looking for those who speak other languages to help facilitate the process for those residents who may not speak English as their first language.
Paying $20 per hour, jobs are available for nights and weekends for approximately 6-10 weeks. Interested candidates can find more information at 2020census.gov/jobs.
Behler also used his time to help quell some fears that County residents may have about giving out personal information.
By using members of the local community to work with the government to procure census data, Behler noted that it helps to better foster trust.
“We’re asking our partners to start the census conversation and that conversation is that the census is safe, the census is easy, and the census is important,” said Behler.
It might be uncomfortable or scary for some to provide personal information to a stranger, thus many might avoid participating altogether for this reason.
Behler emphasized: your information is safe. You will be required only to provide your name, date of birth, race and ethnicity, whether or not you are of Hispanic origin, gender, or whether or not you own or rent a home. No Social Security Numbers are needed.
“Every piece of data we collect…is protected by federal law,” he explained. “Title XIII states that we cannot release information to anyone that would identify an individual or household. Period.”
No federal agency, not Homeland Security, ICE, or even the Patriot Act, can supersede the protection of census data.
“We take this seriously, the public’s trust is the foundation of everything we do,” said Behler. He also noted that he, or anybody working with census data, faces up to five years in prison should confidentiality be breached.
Behler’s last point was this: the census is important.
“It’s representation. It’s funding,” said Behler. “US House of Representatives, the amount of seats each state has in Congress, is based upon census data.”
Head Start, National School Lunch program, food stamps, Section 8 housing – these are just a few examples of hundreds of federally funded programs that could be affected by census data.
The federal government distributes more than $675 billion in funding each year to states for services and programs such as these.
“This equates to about $2,548 per New Jersey resident for important infrastructure improvements, senior services, public health, education, transportation, including block grant programs, such as Superstorm Sandy Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Grants,” Vicari said. “Better participation means more funding.”
“States receive funding based upon formulas that use the census data, so we have to get it right,” Behler added.
Who Is Counted
Ideally, every single Ocean County resident will be counted in the 2020 Census, with only a few exceptions.
According to Ryan Edwards, Partnership Specialist with the US Census Bureau, you will be counted based on “wherever you are on April 1 [Census Day],” which also includes those in Ocean County without a permanent residence.
In the case of “snowbirds,” locals that migrate south during the winter season, they will also be counted.
“It’s where you reside for most of the year, so if you just go down for the winter,” you will be counted as an Ocean County resident, said Edwards.
“The guiding principal for the Census is “usual residence” which is defined as the place where the person lives and sleeps most of the time,” Vicari said. “So with more than 170,000 seniors living in Ocean County, it is important our snowbirds who live in Ocean County most of the year are counted.”
This isn’t the case for college students. Behler added that college students that typically live at home with their parents during winter breaks and summer months should be counted as residing at their school, wherever that may be.
“Our tagline is count every one, and only once, and in the right place,” said Edwards.
How To Participate
Ocean County residents can choose one of four ways to respond to the 2020 Census: on paper, online, over the phone, or through canvassing.
If you choose to respond over the phone, the Census Bureau is now doing so in 13 languages including English.
“These 13 languages make up 99 percent of the population,” said Behler.
For information: 2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html.
Officials have been working on generating information and awareness for the 2020 Census since 2018. It begins with the establishment of Complete Count Committees.
Ocean County established its Committee was established on March 6, which consists of representatives from Ocean County Government Departments, municipalities, non-profits and service organizations, community leaders, faith-based groups, schools, businesses, media outlets and others.
From now until Census Day, April 1, 2020, officials will be working to mobilize the community, advertise the census campaign, and encourage self-response i.e. response on paper, phone, or online.
Those who wish to learn more about the 2020 Census, how to participate, or how to become involved in the campaign, visit 2020census.gov.