March 25, 2020

2020 Census Count Has Big Impact; Help Shape the Future of Princeton

By Donald Gilpin

“Shape your future. Start here,” reads the United States 2020 Census website, and Census Day is just one week away on April 1. The results from the 2020 census will be used to direct billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities for schools, roads, health clinics, and other public services; to help communities prepare to meet transportation and emergency readiness needs; and to determine the number of seats in Congress and the state legislature.

“It’s going to have lots of impact in our community for the next 10 years,” said Princeton Councilwoman and Complete Count Committee (CCC) Chair Leticia Fraga. “For all of our organizations that need funding, we will be able to provide more if we have an accurate count. We know there has been an undercount in the past.”

To ensure that Princeton counts all its residents this time and receives all the funding that is due, Princeton Council passed a resolution in October 2019 to create the CCC. The YMCA subsequently received a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation to help ensure that hard-to-count populations — the undocumented, communities of color, and young children — are included in Princeton’s 2020 count.

The census, a count of every person who lives in the country, has been conducted every 10 years since 1790 and is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

“The most important message,” said Fraga, “is to let every single individual know that they count, and we want to make sure that they are counted, and we need their help to do that.”

Fraga pointed out that census counts determine what funds and grants Princeton is eligible for, as well as school lunches, the district’s representation in the state government, and how many seats in Congress each state gets.

“In 2010 we basically left quite a bit of resources on the table,” said Princeton YMCA CEO Kate Bech, noting that many Princeton residents were not included in the count. The YMCA and CCC are planning programming, possibly including a video available in multiple languages with step-by-step instructions on how to complete the census. They had planned information sessions through March, as the census questionnaires arrived at people’s homes, as well as a number of events and programs in April to reach out to hard-to-count communities.

“We have information sessions ready to go,” said Bech, “but everything had to stop with the coronavirus pandemic. The good news is that when we get the green light we can rev up fast.”
Individuals’ responses to the census are required by law, and answers are kept completely confidential. There is no citizenship question on the 2020 census. The form takes less than 10 minutes on average to complete.

Fraga urged Princeton residents to respond by April 1 either online, by phone, or by mail. She noted that after April 1 census bureau interviewers would be coming to homes that hadn’t responded. “For me, that’s part of the challenge in reaching our immigrant community,” said Fraga. “We’ve been conducting ‘know your rights’ workshops, and you don’t have to open the door unless the person has a warrant.” She added, “So if you don’t want someone coming to your door, respond to the census by April 1.”

Mayor Liz Lempert joined the chorus of community members who are eager to see an accurate count in Princeton so that the town receives its full allotment of funding and representation. “We are encouraging all residents to fill out their census forms,” she said. “They should have received them in the mail some time over the past week. Having a complete count is important for many reasons, including ensuring our community receives its fair share of federal funding.”