The U.S. Census Bureau is urging residents in Puerto Rico to participate in the upcoming 2020 Census.>Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau

The campaign for residents to participate in the upcoming Census 2020 has officially kicked off in Puerto Rico, with local and federal officials emphasizing the importance of the data for the island’s Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted every 10 years. Census Bureau population statistics inform how billions of dollars in federal funds—about $675 billion each year—are allocated for critical public services like hospitals and healthcare clinics, emergency response, schools and education and roads and bridges. In the mainland U.S., the 2020 Census will also guide the drawing of local political boundaries.

“The 2020 Census is on track, and we are confident that operations and outreach efforts will reach all communities, including every person living in Puerto Rico on April 1, 2020,” said Jeff T. Behler, regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau. “We are working closely with the local government, the business community, civic organizations, nonprofits and the faith community to accomplish our goal of counting everyone, including young children and babies,” he said to reporters in San Juan.

According to the 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivations Survey, Puerto Rico presents several unique challenges, especially since the passing of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 2017. The study revealed that few people in Puerto Rico have knowledge of the census, why it is important, who gets counted and how to participate, Behler indicated.

The survey found that besides showing a lack of interest and trust in government, Puerto Ricans are also concerned about issues of privacy and confidentiality. “We are working hard to make sure everyone understands that Census responses are confidential and protected by law,” explained Sara Rosario Nieves, chief of strategic planning at the Decennial Communications and Coordination Office. “We do not share your information with law enforcement agencies or immigration officials.”

New procedures are in place for the island to help ensure a high response rate. Officials said higher self-response rates increase the accuracy of the census and save taxpayer money by lowering census follow-up costs for nonresponding households.

“We are implementing a special approach to the census in Puerto Rico given the large number of households displaced by Hurricane Maria,” explained Arnaldo Sosa, assistant regional census manager. “Instead of mailing questionnaires to every household, a census taker will visit every residence, confirm it is occupied and leave a questionnaire package. People can then respond online, return the questionnaire by mail, or call a toll-free number and speak to an English- or Spanish-language census operator.”

This will be a huge operation for Puerto Rico, as census workers will visit every “household unit” in all municipalities, including gated communities, condos, buildings, public housing projects and neighborhoods in every part of the island.

Behler said the Census is hiring thousands of workers in Puerto Rico for this effort, as he stressed the importance of hiring census workers to work in the communities in which they live, particularly since the vernacular in Puerto Rico is Spanish.

Those interested in applying for Census positions can log on to census2020.gov/jobs. The applications are available in English and Spanish.

Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience. Rosario received both of her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in International Politics from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

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