By Bill Sarno, CTLatinoNews.com
“We want everyone to stand up.” This is how Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz sums ups the state’s commitment to encouraging all Latinos in Connecticut to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census next spring.
Achieving this goal will not be easy, Bysiewicz acknowledged in a recent interview with CTLatinonews, there is a commitment to convince Latinos that the 2020 Census is important and safe.
Bysiewicz said that even before she and Governor Ned Lamont took office in January they knew the 2020 Census was a priority because of its funding and political impact.
Bysiewicz in February launched the Connecticut Complete Count Committee (CCCC). This campaign’s objective is the educate residents about the new online approach to collecting Census information and to counter the lingering impact on Hispanics of President Trump’s draconian immigration policies and vilification.
(Picture courtesy: The Office of Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz)
The importance of engaging Latinos, Bysiewicz said, lies in the numbers. There are 589,000 Latinos in the state according to the Census Bureau, and they comprise 16.5 percent of the population. Also, due largely to their younger average age, Latinos are increasing twelve times faster than the general population, she said.
“The biggest issue we face as a state with a large Latino community,” Bysiewicz said, “is that the Trump administration has weaponized the Census.”
The president and his allies want to diminish the electoral strength of states with a strong Democratic record and large numbers of immigrant residents, by imposing a citizenship question on the Census form to heighten the fear of deportation.
“We want Latinos to know that filling out the Census is safe,” Bysiewicz said, and that the federal government cannot use the information for law enforcement at the federal, state or local level.”
Connecticut was second only to California in creating a statewide effort to produce an accurate count and according to the lieutenant governor is “furthest along” of the states in taking action,
The CCCC’s focus has been on building partnerships with an array of organizations, including several major Hispanic groups and agencies that serve this growing community.
“We tried to get every facet of Connecticut life covered,” Byziewicz said. “We want trusted partners in communities who would work at the grassroots level to help get the message out,” she said
The lieutenant governor expressed pride that this campaign already has attracted more than 100 partners, including civic, religious, business and immigrant rights organizations as well as individuals such Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling’s wife Lucia, a Latina who is contributing her Spanish language ability, Bysiewicz said.
But while Bysiewicz, along with state Rep. Chris Rosario and two other CCCC co-chairs, have been quickly amassing grassroots and organizational partners, the state has been slow to fund this campaign compared to the millions of dollars earmarked by several other states.
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However, on Oct. 31, Bysiewicz announced the state had identified $500,000 in state funds to be matched by private funding from philanthropic sources.
Still getting every resident counted faces a major hurdle.
Trump and his allies were thwarted by the U.S. Supreme Court in their attempt to include a citizenship question on which according to national studies would intimidate millions of Latinos from participating in the Census. However, a “climate of fear” persists, said Bysiewicz.
Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state, observed that it took several months before the Supreme Court torpedoed the citizenship question, leaving many people confused and nervous.
Other factors contributing to Latino distrust of the government and wariness of Census, Bysiewicz said, are the separation of Latino immigrant families at the southern border and the harsh deportation practices of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Since the number of residents, not citizens, determines the apportionment of congressional seats and delineates state legislative districts for the next decade, a low count of Latino residents could crimp their growing political clout.
The Census’s socio-economic impact also has become a vital concern, especially to cities such as Bridgeport and New Haven with large Hispanic populations. The decennial count determines how federal grants are allocated with much of this money used for programs serving lower-income communities,
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“Every person not counted means $2,200 in federal grants will not come into Connecticut, Bysiewicz said. She added that even though Connecticut currently receives about $11 billion in federal funds it ranks 48th comparing what it gives to what it gets back.
The lieutenant governor has been meeting with leaders in the thirty cities and towns with the largest Latino populations. Moreover, 100 communities already have set up their own complete count committees.
The CCCC is being supported by immigration and refugee rights services, federally qualified health services, state colleges, the NAACP, philanthropic and charitable agencies and faith-based entities; and public libraries.
It was important to get libraries involved, Bysiewicz explained, because they typically have banks of well-used computer terminals and the 2020 Census will be the first going online and using the phone.
While she is a longtime Democratic political leader, Bysiewicz emphasized that Republicans are involved in the CCCC, citing the participation of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the Council on Small Towns, Fairfield County Business Council and several chambers of commerce.
The CCCC also is working with local school leaders. “We want to make sure kids have information” to take home about the importance of the Census, the state’s number two state elected official said.
In addition, the partnership is still growing with the state Department of Motor Vehicles on board as a CCCC partner, Byzsewicz reported.
The Lamont administration has been working with the Census Bureau which is expected to have three offices in Connecticut. Bysiewicz said two of the locations are New Haven and Danbury and the third site is likely to be Hartford
An immediate goal is to enlist 28,000 enumerators for the Census. The pay for these part-time jobs will be $21-25 per hour with the higher rate designated for Fairfield and New Haven counties.
The need to get Latinos on board the Census effort is reflected in the choice of Bridgeport resident Rosario as one of three CCCC co-chairs. The other two are Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Rep. Patricia Wilson Pheanious.
Several prominent Latinos also are working with CCC. They include Angel Sierra and Julio Mendoza of SAMA; Dr. Elsa Nunez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University; Julio Conception, a Hartford council member who is connected to the MetroAlliance and Hartford Chamber of Commerce; Kica Matos of the Center for Community Change (New Haven); Connecticut attorney Monica Vargas Huertas of NALEO education fund, and Waterbury Alderman Victor Lopez of the Hispanic Coalition.
The CCCC partners with strong Hispanic connections include the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and the Spanish American Merchants Association, as well as those with many Latino members such as the 220,000-member AFL-CIO and other labor unions.
Also, Bysiewicz said that state Rep. Hilda Santiago set up a complete count conference in Meriden and state Rep. Geraldo Reyes “is very concerned” about this effort in Waterbury.
The lieutenant governor said she has spoken on Spanish-language radio through a translator, has enlisted ethnic publications La Voz and Idendidad Latina and the AFL-CIO is producing Spanish language videos.
“We are getting the message out any way we can,” Bysiewicz said.
Publisher’s note: CTLN is committed to providing in-depth news and information on the 2020 U.S. Census in order to educate and empower all Connecticut communities.