Lydia Martinez is concerned.
With only a month to go before the 2020 U.S. Census count ends, the city is barely at 51 percent of its families completing the form. That’s at least seven points lower than 10 years ago.
So Martinez, a former city councilwoman who chairs the City Council’s Complete Count Task Force, is working with State Reps. Chris Rosario and Antonio Felipe in putting together a series of events over the next few weeks to try to increase the numbers, including one from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Winfield Park and a picnic at the Harborview Apartments on Sept. 1.
But Benjamin Acevedo, an Ogden Street landlord, is not so sure how much the events will help.
“People are afraid to fill out the form,” he told the Connecticut Post Wednesday during a visit by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “They think the government is going to come after them.”
Acevedo said he has had numerous discussions with his tenants and neighbors on Ogden Street regarding the importance of completing the form.
“I tell them it’s OK to fill it out,” he said. “I tell them how very important this is to Bridgeport — how it will help the community.”
Unfortunately, he said, “They don’t want to hear it. They don’t understand. They think it’s too much of a risk.”
Many neighborhood residents are undocumented non-citizens who moved to the East Side from places like El Salvador, Mexico and Nicaragua, he said.
“I’m going to try again, but I don’t know if I can convince them,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, Murphy walked Shelton, Kossuth and Ogden Street and knocked on doors with Martinez, Rosario and Felipe acting as his Spanish interpreters.
Some people, like Stephanie Cruz and Marcus Nunez, assured him they would complete the form online.
No census takers accompanied Murphy on the walk.
Keith Goralski, the Census 2020 New York Region spokesman, said they aren’t permitted.
“Census takers are not allowed to be accompanied by anyone outside of the Census Bureau when they are helping others complete their questionnaires,” he said. “This is due to privacy laws in place to protect personal data. The Bureau is very strict about adhering to this policy.”
On his hour-long walk, Murphy did his best to assure residents that the information they provide is confidential.
“It’s totally safe,” he said. “There won’t be any consequences.”
Murphy said states and, eventually their municipalities, receive monies for community block grants, WIC and SNAP, health services like Medicare and Medicaid and educational programs like Head Start through formulas based on population. If the population is undercounted, it means less federal funding.
Right now, Connecticut’s big cities aren’t being counted in full: Bridgeport has had barely 51 percent of residents completing the census; Hartford is at 46.5 percent, New Haven is at 51.8 percent and Waterbury is at53.8 percent.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz , who has been in Bridgeport several times in the past few months pushing completion of Census forms, said every family not counted here results in a loss of $2,900 a year. Over the 10-year life of the Census, that number soars to $29,000 in unreceived money for each uncounted family.
At Liberty Tax on East Main Street, Nate and Marlon Moran said they have been calling clients, sending out email blasts and handing out flyers urging people to fill out the form.
Murphy said he realizes that people are dealing with the pandemic, job searches and uncertainty about their kids’ education.
“With all that’s going on, this (filling out the census) is not a high priority for some,” he said.