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Riverhead Town lagging behind county average for 2020 census response

Portions of Riverhead Town are lagging behind the Suffolk County average when it comes to responding to the 2020 census.

Response from Aquebogue ranged from 40% to 50%. Jamesport replied at a rate of 15% to 30%. The average census response rate across Suffolk County is 61.5%, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

Some areas in Riverhead hamlet have responding at rates of 62% to 68%, just above the average, while others are in the 56% to 62% range. The Riverhead ZIP code, which stretches into Southampton Town, also shows a response rate of 40% to 50% in the Riverside and Northampton areas and 50% to 60% in Flanders.

The deadline for responding to the 2020 census is Oct. 31.

Higher self-response rates, either by mail or online, mean fewer residents are likely to be missed or counted inaccurately and fewer households will require a visit from a census taker to be counted in person, according to the Census Bureau. Higher response also gives Suffolk County a better chance at receiving its fair share of services and political representation.

“It looks like a lot of the non-responses are coming from the regular community, not the immigrant community,” observed Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, who is also a member of a coalition trying to improve census return rates in Southold and Riverhead towns.

She acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic could also be affecting the rates of response. 

“There are extra pressures that are on every single family that put the census a little further down in priority,” Sister Margaret said.

A group called the North Fork Nosotros Contamos (“We All Count”) Coalition is working to improve the census return rates in Riverhead and Southold towns. According to coalition coordinator Dena Spanos, its member groups include Community Action Southold Town,  the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, Sepa Mujer, Rural Migrant Ministries, the Southold and Riverhead anti-bias task forces, Catholic Charities and the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. 

Most of Southold Town ranks near the bottom for Suffolk County when it comes to responding to the 2020 census. Areas like East Marion and Orient have response rates of 15% and less. In Southold, Peconic and Cutchogue, 30% to 40% of residents have participated in the count to date, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Response from households in Greenport and Mattituck has been in the 40% to 50% range.

On the South Fork, the towns of Southampton and East Hampton, as well as Shelter Island, also recorded among the lowest response rates so far for the region, according to the Census Bureau.

An accurate census count can have a positive impact on the way tax dollars are distributed and also can determine whether an area qualifies for a Congressional seat. 

Communities with very low census participation  could even end up losing a seat in Congress. 

Census figures are used to allocate federal funding for programs dealing with health care, education, highway infrastructure, agriculture, programs for the needy, vocational programs, wildlife restoration, housing, firefighting, law enforcement and more.

“We’re trying to educate people that there is practically nothing that is not impacted, in some way, by the census,” said Sister Margaret. 

The last census, 10 years ago, had a similarly slow start but ended up with a return rate of about 60%, Sister Margaret said. But this time, she’s hoping to get those rates up into the 80% to 90% range. 

To do so, coalition members have been going through their contact lists and calling people to urge them to complete the census, which only takes about 10 minutes to do, according to Ms. Spanos.

“It has a huge impact,” she said. “It’s a way for your voice to be counted.”

Social media also has been a successful way of reaching people, she said.

In addition, coalition members have discovered that census questionnaires were not sent to people who only had a post office box as an address. As a result, the coalition is sending post cards to those people to alert them about the census.  

“We’re trying to explain the importance of the census,” she said. 

A 2009 Census Bureau working paper found that more than $400 billion in federal funds was distributed using census data. That estimate was based on 2007 funding, and officials say current numbers are likely to be much higher. 

A more recent chart shows how 2015 federal assistance was distributed based on census data. 

The largest expenditure was a $311.8 billion Health and Human Services medical assistance program, followed by a $71 billion USDA supplemental nutrition assistance program and  $70 billion for HHS Medicare Part B physicians fee schedule services, according to the Census Bureau.

More than $689 billion annually is distributed using census estimates.  

In fiscal year 2016, New York State received $73.3 billion through 55 federal spending  programs guided by data derived from the 2010 census, according to the GW Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University.

Census FAQ

Who should respond?

The census counts everyone living in the U.S. and its five territories. One person should respond from reach home. The person must be at least 15.

Who should be counted?

You should be counted where you were living and sleeping most of the time as of April 1, 2020. For someone staying a temporary location on April 1 due to COVID-19, that person should be counted where he or she usually lives. Someone staying in a home who doesn’t have a home elsewhere should be counted.

How can responses be sent?

Forms can be completed online, by phone or by mail. Detailed instructions can be found at 2020census.gov.

What are the key dates?

From July 1 to Sept. 3, census takers will work with administrators at colleges, senior centers, prisons and other facilities that house large groups of people. From Aug. 11 to Oct. 31, census takers will interview homes that have not responded. In December, the Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the president and Congress.