To say people have been distracted by national and international events for the last six months would be an understatement. As spring turned to summer, everything from civil rights to infectious disease has vied for attention. And each issue merits a tremendous amount of attention, debate, inspection, and introspection as people in the Tri-Town communities and beyond have sought ways to understand, improve communication, or simply make a living while staying healthy enough to do so.
While all that is taking place, quietly in libraries across the nation directors have not forgotten about another matter requiring the people’s attention – the 2020 Census. Every 10 years, the federal government attempts to count the number of people living in the country.
Why, you ask? This is done in an effort to determine where monies should be deployed and for what types of projects and programs. It has everything to do with people, the number of people living in the US regardless of citizenship status, age, race, or religion. It’s about where the dollars will go from the federal coffers.
The Wanderer recently spoke to Luana Josvold of the League of Women Voters South Coast and Mattapoisett Library Director Susan Pizzolato about the census and the level of participation during a year, that so far, has proven historic for the level of stress that has generated.
Pizzolato said that libraries in the Tri-Town and most of the South Coast had partnered with the league in a push to count everyone, especially those people who typically go uncounted – non-English speakers and children. She said, “Prior to the shutdown we were ready to go, providing assistance in the libraries for those who sought it, using the libraries computers.” She said that library staff had been trained to provide assistance and assurance that the information would not be used for any purpose other than counting people. “It impacts how federal monies are spent on food programs in communities such as WIC or school lunch programs; it impacts our representation in Washington,” Pizzolato stated.
But the shutdown made the push to get as many people counted as possible nearly impossible. “No one was going door to door,” Jovold said. Instead, it was determined that other approaches had to be found and that those approaches needed to focus on populations where they lived. “We now have posters up in churches and immigrant aid centers as well as laundry mats,” she said. Those posters are printed in several languages. “The fliers reassure people that their voices are essential,” Pizzolato added. She said that they recognized that the children in some households might be the only ones able to read, so some of the posters have used characters from Sesame Street to engage the public.
As a reminder to anyone who has not yet completed either the paper forms that have been sent to permanent addresses or online, the census is critical in determining where federal money will be spent. Josvold said that even infants impact spending programs, as a year-old child today will be in school before the next census is scheduled and that child, along with millions of others, will need schools, roads, food service, and representation.
“Every community needs funds,” Pizzolato said, adding to the list of programs impacted by the census count such things as school buses, social services, Medicare Part B, special education, school construction, and healthcare centers. The census numbers are also used to help cities and towns write their master plans. Nearly every aspect of a master plan requires data on the number of people in a community and the ages therein, as plans are formulated for roadways and infrastructure as well as services. “Even open spaces and waterways are potentially impacted by the census,” Pizzolato said.
“People may still be afraid to be counted,” Josvold commented. She said, “We need to know you are there, it doesn’t matter to the census if you are a citizen or not.” But she said it does matter that people get the services they need.
Josvold said that, starting July 16 through October 31 across the country, census takers will begin going door-to-door. “They have all been trained in the latest guidelines for health safety,” she added.
In towns like Marion and Mattapoisett with a summer influx of homeowners, people may not know where to list their primary residence. “We can help them figure that out,” Pizzolato said.
Both Josvold and Pizzolato were a bit surprised at the current level of local participation thus far reported on the national census website. It lists Rochester at 79.9 percent, Marion at 62.1 percent, and Mattapoisett at 59.1 percent. They both agreed there is work to do done in bringing those numbers up.
If you or someone you know needs assistance completing the 2020 Census or has questions, you may contact your local libraries: Mattapoisett Free Public Library via firstname.lastname@example.org, 508-758-4171; Plumb Library in Rochester via email@example.com, 508-763-8600; and the Elizabeth Taber Library in Marion via elizabethtaberlibrary.org, 508-748-1252; or the League of Women Voters South Coast via firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you may visit 2020census.gov.
League of Women Voters South Coast
By Marilou Newell