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2020 Census Officials Urge Remote Participation Now Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Sarah Gibson | NHPR

The U.S. Census Bureau is urging residents to fill out the 2020 census online, by mail and over the phone by April 1 as a way to limit person-to-person contact as coronavirus continues to spread.

New Hampshire households are receiving mailers with directions to fill out the census online at my2020census.gov. The mailer includes a Census ID, but residents can still complete the survey without one.

People can also call 1-844-330-2020 to complete the survey over the phone. The Bureau offers this option in twelve other commonly spoken languages in the U.S.

Some New Hampshire residents in rural areas with limited internet will receive invitations to respond to the census by mail.

If households have not responded after multiple mailers from the Bureau, they could see census workers at their door in May.

Steven Dillingham, Census Bureau Director, told officials and others gathered in Manchester on Friday this could change in light of COVID-19.

“Our current plan calls for us to send the census takers out to the community to knock on the doors or leave the questionnaire with you, perhaps on your doorknob, and we’re working out those details because conditions are changing,” he said.

Experts estimate New Hampshire received over $6 billion in federal funds guided by its census population count, and town administrators and non-profits in New Hampshire are working hard to get their populations counted accurately even amidst the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the towns of Durham, Dover, and New Market launched a competition to encourage an accurate count. To inspire participation, the two towns with lower rates of response in May will have to pay by cleaning the winning town's dirtiest firetruck.

Courtesy of town of Durham
From left to right, Steve Fournier, Newmarket Town Administrator, Mike Joyal, Dover City Manager, and Todd Selig, Durham Town Administrator, at a 2020 Census Challenge Kickoff.

“We’re hopeful to get the word out so that people will be proactive and do their surveys online. That way, they're done, there's no risk of exposure,” explained Durham town administrator Todd Selig.

Durham and other college towns with large student populations had planned to encourage census participation before the end of the semester. With massive higher education closures, the Bureau says students who may be finishing the semester at home should still list their college address when responding to the census.

Bill Maddocks, who is working with a group of local non-profits as a complete count consultant, says groups working to get accurate numbers for hard-to-count populations, including resettled refugees and immigrants, will have to be creative.

“We’re going to have to follow CDC rules and keep to social distancing,” he says. “It’s more about extending the outreach effort and getting people to move to [completing the Census on] the phone.”

More information about the census can be found at 2020census.gov.

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