As the 2020 Census approaches, the U.S. Census Bureau is calling on communities across the country, including in Vermont, to encourage residents to complete the form. The goal is to get as close to a complete count of residents as possible, which Michael Moser explained will help communities get their fair share of federal dollars.
Moser is the coordinator for the Vermont State Census Data Center in Burlington, and it is his job to ensure that as many people participate in the census as possible. Until the census launches in the spring of 2020, he said he will be increasing communications with the public to encourage participation. His big message is that every person counted matters.
“The census helps us distribute federal dollars back to the states, back to the counties, back to the cities and towns,” he said. “For every person who isn’t counted in Rutland, or Rutland County, that’s fewer federal dollars in the form of HUD grants, USDA grants, transportation grants. Federal programs rely on census data to determine funding for all these programs.”
Part of how Moser and the Census Bureau plan to reach Vermonters is by forming Complete Count Committees or CCCs. CCCs consist of locals hired to connect with every part of a town, especially the populations that have not historically responded to the census at high rates.
“The Complete Count Committee’s purpose is to communicate the purpose of completing the census to different groups in the state that are traditionally harder to get responses from,” Moser said. “Right now, the Census Bureau is preparing to open their Burlington office. ... I’m sure they’ve started the process of hiring hundreds of Vermonters around the state to begin the 2020 processes in the field.”
In many cases, the Census Bureau has already been in touch with towns and counties to prepare for their upcoming on-the-ground efforts. The Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC) has helped the Bureau map out the county and identify population centers, or “designated places.”
Ed Bove, executive director of the RRPC, clarified that while the committee has helped the Bureau with its preliminary efforts in the area, the committee does not have a role in data collection or in designing the census form.
“We’re not the ones that are looking at the data or using it to influence any type of decision making for our towns,” he said.
Bove highlighted the importance of an accurate count in Rutland, which could lead to increased funding for transportation, housing, emergency and disaster response, environmental programs and more.
“A lot of the money the state of Vermont gets is from the federal government and it’s passed through to state agencies,” he said. “In a lot of cases, the more population you have the more funding you get.”
With the upcoming census recently in the national news, most recently because of the Trump administration’s previous effort to add a question about citizenship status to the form, Moser recognized that there is a heightened awareness and scrutiny about the process.
However, confusion over a potential citizenship question has caused fear within the immigrant community that could decrease their participation, which Moser said is not how the process is intended to function.
“The census is intended to count residents, not citizens, of our country, and there are plenty of people who are not citizens who reside in our country,” Moser said.
Late Thursday, the president abandoned his demand for the citizenship question, instead ordering federal agencies to compile the desired citizenship information through existing records, according to news reports.
As advertising for the census increases, the Bureau will create more CCCs across Vermont, including in Rutland County, to try and reach a full and accurate count.
“Every time someone in Rutland or someone in Vermont opts out of taking the decennial census, we are losing money that comes back to the state,” Moser said. “So the taxpayer dollars that we pay out of Vermont, we don’t get those back when someone chooses not to take the census because then they aren’t being counted.”