Down for the count

Union City officials aim for accurate census data

Union City officials are pushing to inform residents about the census and its purpose.
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Union City officials are pushing to inform residents about the census and its purpose.

Union City officials participated in the 2020 Census Kickoff Day campaign to promote full-fledged participation in this year’s national population count.

Officials believe that Union City’s growing population is higher than the 66,455 recorded in the last census. They maintain that the count was short by tens of thousands of residents, estimating that Union City’s population is closer to 80,000.

“Many cities are considered hard to count areas, and Union City is not an exception,” Union City Mayor Brian Stack said. “It is crucial for residents to be counted. A correct count can translate into millions in federal aid, representation in the House of Representatives, and accurate voting boundaries. There is a direct impact on the residents of Union City, which is why it is so important to be counted.”

The census is a valuable government tool for understanding demographic changes. While participation hasn’t been legally enforced since 1970, census participation is required by law.

Ninety-five percent of residents will receive a census survey in the mail. Those who don’t have mail slots at home may receive a survey from a census taker. Students living in university housing, or people experiencing homelessness, can have their surveys taken in person.

For Union City, the census counts

According to Union City Commissioner Lucio Fernandez, a local initiative to push for census participation is more important now than in the past. He said that federal budget cuts reduced U.S. Census Bureau funding by half, at a time when Union City’s population is rapidly increasing.

“The funding dedicated to the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct the census was cut in half, so it is our goal to familiarize residents with why it is important and to make it easy for them to be counted,” Fernandez said.

On kickoff day, officials introduced an ongoing census awareness campaign designed to get more residents informed and involved. They’ve dedicated a page on the city’s website with information on how to participate.

Throughout the year, city officials will reach out to residents through fliers, social media, and outreach events.

New Jersey receives about $17.5 billion in federal aid, and that aid is largely contingent on census data.

Federal aid programs including school breakfasts and lunches, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, immunization programs, and road construction projects are impacted by the census. Federal funding programs that are influenced by census results provide benefits to both state and local government.

If Union City residents decline to participate in the census, the city can become underrepresented in those programs, and receive less funding than it should, according to funding formulas.

There is skepticism about how census data will be used, especially in the wake of efforts, backed by President Trump, to add a citizenship-status question to the survey.

The personal data that census takers gather is not accessible to agencies outside the U.S. Census Bureau. Union City officials hope to quell fears of taking the census sparked by the the prospect of a citizenship-status question, an issue that will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court over the next few months.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com, or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.