Though the Census doesn’t start until April 2020, ACNJ has been promoting the importance of an accurate count for New Jersey since last year. Together, my colleagues and I have been crisscrossing the state, educating mayors, civic groups, social service agencies and other nonprofits on how the Census affects federal funding and political representation.
But while more people understand the importance of the Census, we heard the same thing over and over: “OK, that’s great. So, what can I do about it?”
Lots, actually. One easy way people can help is by participating in local Complete Count Committees. These committees are heavily featured in the State Complete Count Commission report on Census outreach. With $9 million allocated to the New Jersey Complete Count Commission for Census outreach, much of New Jersey’s plan focuses on grassroots organizing built around local Complete Count Committees.
What is a Complete Count Committee?
A Complete Count Committee is a group of stakeholders dedicated to helping Census efforts to get a complete count of all residents in a given area. Members works together to identify what may prevent a complete count of all the individuals in their community. Then, they identify what resources and strategies might be successful in improving their local count.
Complete Count Committees may sound formal, but they can be as simple as a few neighborhood members meeting in a library community room once a month. They tend to follow the same general model:
1) Learn about the Census from the Census Bureau and partners (including ACNJ)
2) Identify the hard-to-count populations in their community (for a map of hard-to-count areas in New Jersey, click here)
3) Develop strategies to address those needs
The Census is a federal program, so why do we need local Complete Count Committees?
Although the Census is a national undertaking, counting everyone means focusing locally. People may not trust the federal government, but they do trust their neighbors, friends, doctors, teachers, clergy and neighborhood/community leaders.
Local communities have local obstacles. Bridgeton is different than Hackensack. The strategies they will need to reach hard-to-count populations will need to be different as well. The federal government does not know your community as well as you do!
How do I start a Complete Count Committee?
Typically, a Complete Count Committee is appointed by the highest level of government in an area – either the mayor or the county freeholders/executive. Check to make sure that your town doesn’t already have a Committee formed. If a group already exists, join in! If your community has not created a Complete Count Committee, contact your mayor’s office or local county freeholders and/or executive to request that they do so. Click here for a sample letter from the League of Women Voters-Atlantic County, which was sent to their Board of Chosen Freeholders.
You can also set one up yourself by contacting the Census Bureau’s partnership specialists at New.York.firstname.lastname@example.org. There, you can register your group as a Complete Count Committee and also request a presentation from the Bureau on Census operations.
Members should include:
- Government agencies
- Nonprofit agencies
- Faith groups
- Business community
- Local foundations/philanthropy
- Community organizations serving hard-to-count populations (homeless, immigrants, limited English proficiency, college students, seniors, ex-offenders, etc.)
The Committee should then meet regularly to discuss what action steps have been taken and what planning needs to be done.
Funding for committee work may come from local government or philanthropies. Groups that are interested in philanthropic support should direct their questions to Kiki Jamieson at Fund for New Jersey at email@example.com, who is encouraging foundations to support Census outreach.
The New Jersey Complete Count Commission, which was created by legislation and has appointments from the governor and legislature, is planning to fund local outreach. The application process, however, has yet to be finalized.
The Census Bureau provides a complete guide on starting a Committee. However, for a quick one-pager, this short document lays out the basics.
What are the strategies we need to reach hard-to-count populations?
Strategies to reach individuals will differ based on the community, but some examples include:
- A poster project at local middle schools to design posters and logos on why the Census is important for the community
- Host job fairs at local sites such as city offices, churches and community organizations
- Host informational sessions for community members at existing events such as school PTA meetings, faith groups or local service organizations
- Invite the Census Bureau to table at local events such as fairs, festivals, parades, etc.
- Translate Census materials into non-English languages particular to the community
- Have committee members appear on local non-English radio stations to highlight importance of Census for immigrant communities
Local committees should develop solutions that make the most sense for their communities.
When should we get started?
As soon as possible! We’re currently helping community members understand what the Census is and that it is coming soon. But Census Day will be here before you know it. If a community is planning to reach everyone in their community, they will need to start planning now.
Additionally, state funding and philanthropic dollars will likely be targeted to communities with robust plans for how that money will be spent. No community should miss out on these critical funds for Census outreach due to a lack of planning.
How can I support my local committee?
If there’s a local committee, join! Complete Count Committees work best when they have representation from hard-to-count populations and groups that serve those populations. If a committee only has local government and the same five people who come to every meeting, it might be missing some of those hardest-to-count groups.
Additionally, think about those who serve these populations who may not be included in outreach and planning. Immigrant groups may not rely on traditional nonprofits, instead leaning on small churches or local businesses. Tenant legal aid agencies may be more likely to reach populations who move frequently or are afraid to respond because of housing code violations. Having these people on your committee is invaluable.
What if my municipality is not creating a Complete Count Committee?
Start planning anyways! You don’t need the government to start your own Complete Count Committee. A group of engaged citizens can always create their own Committee. Additionally, groups may want to form Complete Count Committees with special population focuses. For example, in Trenton, a group of local nonprofits has begun organizing a Complete Count Committee alongside the city’s own effort, with a special focus on very hard-to-count groups such as people experiencing homelessness.
I’m ready to start!
Getting a complete count in New Jersey will require everyone to be involved. Together, we can ensure an accurate count and bring billions of federal dollars, as well as congressional representation, to the State. If you would like a group to give an educational presentation, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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