Bennington County wins contest to boost census responses

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BENNINGTON — Bennington was among two counties that won a statewide competition last week to boost participation in the 2020 census.

Census self-responses in Bennington County rose by 0.6 percentage points between July 24 and Sunday, going from 48.9 to 49.5 percent. This was the biggest percentage point increase seen among Vermont counties during this period, which Windsor County also achieved, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Bennington County has around 15,000 households, based on the latest bureau data. This means as of Sunday, some 7,400 households have responded to the once-a-decade population count.

The winners of what the Census Bureau dubbed as Push Week will receive a "creative digital reward," the agency said but didn't have details of the reward as of Wednesday.

The bureau said the winners benefited from Mobile Questionnaire Assistance events, where Census Bureau workers were deployed to the lowest-responding communities nationwide. The workers answered questions and helped people fill out their census questionnaires on the spot.

At least 20 such events were held in Vermont last week, including several in Londonderry, Stratton and Wilmington.

"Many groups worked with the U.S. Census Bureau to find appropriate locations for the MQA events across Vermont, which is a great collaborative model," said Jason Broughton, chairman of Vermont's Complete Count Committee, a group the state formed to ensure a complete and accurate census count.

Within the bureau's New York Regional Office, which encompasses Vermont, Maine's Waldo County topped the Push Week efforts with a 1.2 percentage point increase in self-responses. The office also covers Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

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SEPTEMBER DEADLINE

People who have not yet responded to the census have until Sept. 30 — after the bureau announced Monday that it would stick with a year-end deadline to turn in numbers used for redrawing congressional districts.

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham has said the agency aims to have the same level of responses as past censuses. "We will improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness," he said.

The bureau has emphasized that respondents can  complete their forms online at my2020census.gov. They also can self-respond by phone or by mail.

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Some of the 500,000 field workers hired by the Census Bureau have begun knocking on homes that have not yet responded, but they weren't expected to go out in force until next week.

Earlier this year, the bureau pushed back wrapping up data collection to the end of October due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bureau also asked Congress to extend the deadline for turning in apportionment data used for drawing congressional districts from Dec. 31 to April 30 next year. Top Census Bureau officials have said it would be impossible to meet the end-of-the-year deadline, and that the bureau expected bipartisan support for the request.

The request passed the Democratic-controlled House as part of coronavirus-relief legislation, but it hasn't gone anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. The chamber's inaction coincides with a memorandum Pres. Donald Trump issued last month to try to exclude people living in the U.S. illegally from being part of the process for redrawing congressional districts.

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WORRIES ABOUT ACCURACY, COMPLETENESS

Civil rights groups, states, cities and individuals have filed at least a half-dozen lawsuits challenging the memorandum as unconstitutional and an attempt to limit the power of Latinos and immigrants of color.

Meanwhile, census experts, academics and civil rights activists worry the sped-up count could hurt its thoroughness and produce inaccurate data that will have lasting effects through the next decade. The results determine how many congressional seats each state gets and how $675 billion in federal program funding is distributed.

"It is quite unfortunate that while in the COVID pandemic, when outreach efforts, including basic door-to-door enumeration have been seriously hampered nationwide, there is a push to wrap up with data collection so soon," said Michael Moser, coordinator of the Vermont Census State Data Center.

"The decision to do so further illustrates this administration's lack of interest in the foundation of accurate data as a key component of decision-making for this country. I am not surprised in the least by this further politicization of what should be a purely non-partisan governmental operation," said Moser, who is also a member of the state complete count committee.

The committee chairman, Broughton, is concerned the shortened schedule would create misinformation, stress and "mistrust with government and government officials to do things right and accurately."

This story includes reports from the Associated Press.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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