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Experts: Census Undercount of Young Children Could Cost NH Dearly

Families who have not filled out their census forms by mid-May will receive paper forms in the mail and could be contacted by Census Bureau workers. (Driftwood/Adobe Stock)
Families who have not filled out their census forms by mid-May will receive paper forms in the mail and could be contacted by Census Bureau workers. (Driftwood/Adobe Stock)
March 25, 2020

CONCORD, N.H. -- The 2020 U.S. census is in full swing, even with the COVID-19 crisis, and experts want to reinforce the importance of filling out the form, especially for families with young children.

In 2016, New Hampshire received more than $3.7 billion in federal funding for schools, child care, medical care, food assistance, housing and public transportation programs. Sarah Varney, director of advancement for the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, part of the New Hampshire Complete Count Committee, said social service agencies need all the federal dollars they can get.

"We have programs that work with young children and support their families," she said, "and it just benefits our agency and them in the end, if they're included and participate in this important process."

A 2019 study by the Urban Institute projected that between 2,400 and 3,500 New Hampshire children younger than age 5 could be missed. The state Complete Count Committee estimated that each person missed will cost the state more than $2,700 in federal funding per year.

Deborah Stein, network director for the Partnership for America's Children, said she's concerned that the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies could cause immigrant families to shy away from the census.

"Most young children are citizens, because they're born here," she said. "So, the question is not whether they are immigrants, but whether there is an immigrant family member -- and the family is afraid to return the form because they're afraid something bad will happen to that immigrant family member."

However, Sarah Brannon, managing attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said census workers aren't allowed to share your personal information with anyone, including other federal agencies.

"It is a confidentiality pledge that you have to take, that you're sworn for life to protect any information you might see during the course of your employment," she said, "and it is punishable, up to five years in prison and of a fine of $250,000, or both. So, it is a very serious pledge that they take."

Census data also determines political representation.

Postcards have been mailed out with each household's census ID number. It only takes 10 minutes to fill out the form, by phone or online at 2020census.gov.

The Urban Institute study is online at urban.org and statistics on funds are at nhmunicipal.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NH