NJISJ Testimony before the New Jersey Complete Count Commission

The Honorable Tahesha Way
Secretary of State of New Jersey
State of New Jersey, Department of State
20 West State Street, Fourth Floor
P.O. Box 300
Trenton, NJ 08625

Re: New Jersey Complete Count Commission

Dear Chairwoman Way and Members of the New Jersey Complete Count Commission:

I am Patricia Williamson, the New Jersey Counts Project Director at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (the “Institute”). The Institute is a legal advocacy organization that works to ensure that urban residents live in a society that respects their humanity, provides equality of economic opportunity, empowers them to use their voice in the political process, and protects equal justice.

The Institute respectfully submits this testimony in support of the formation of this Commission, and to request additional state funding for the New Jersey Census 2020 outreach program.

A fair and accurate count in the 2020 Census is essential to ensure that communities across New Jersey, particularly those hard-to-count communities of color, receive the funding and representation that they deserve. Census population data determine New Jersey’s representation in Congress and inform where voting district lines are drawn, the enforcement of civil rights laws, and how much federal funding states and localities receive for education, healthcare and infrastructure.


As it stands, however, the current level of federal funding for the 2020 Census is inadequate and promises to result in less staffing, advertising, and Complete Count Committee outreach. The most immediate result of an underfunded census field operation is an undercount of the United States population. The inclusion of a shameful citizenship question also threatens to result in a significant census undercount, particularly among traditionally hard-to-count individuals, including people of color, children, lower income persons, those with limited English proficiency, immigrants, homeless persons, and those with severe distrust of the government. Since the majority of 2020 Census responses will be gathered online, individuals without broadband Internet service may also be hard to count. 


Communities across New Jersey rely on Census-funded programs for essential government programs and services. In 2015 alone, New Jersey received well over $17 billion from the federal government for Medicare, Medicaid, highway planning and construction, food stamps, and childhood education.[1] New Jersey could see a cut in federal funding for these programs with a census undercount in 2020, hurting families and communities all across the state.

The Census 2020 New Jersey Coalition, which I convene on behalf of the Institute, is committed to working with Secretary Way and this this Commission to overcome these hurdles. We are bringing together and updating key stakeholder groups committed to an accurate census count, particularly with regard to hard to count neighborhoods - i.e., census tracts where almost a quarter or more households did not return their census questionnaires via mail in 2010.

The 2010 Census response rates were particularly low in Camden (61%), Paterson (60%), Trenton (59%), New Brunswick (56%), Newark (55%), Atlantic City (55%), Orange (55%), and Irvington (50%).[2] These cities, as well as the entire counties of Essex, Hudson, and Camden, are the Institute’s urban targets.

The Institute is very closely connected to hard to count neighborhoods through its work in economic mobility, civic engagement, and criminal justice.

State Funding Request

Federal funding is given to the U. S. Census Bureau, but it is not directly allocated to states or localities to help them with their outreach efforts. Dedicated state funds are therefore critical to support public education, materials development, community outreach, coalition building, and communications necessary to help ensure a complete 2020 Census count.

Unfortunately, only $500,000 has been allocated in the FY19 state budget to support the 2020 Census effort to count New Jersey’s 9 million residents, or .05 per person. By comparison, the New York 2020 Census coalition estimates that community-based organizations alone will need $40 million to conduct census outreach efforts in hard-to-count communities.[3]

To be sure, New Jersey will need comparable resources. We, therefore, request that Governor Phil Murphy and the state legislature dedicate $9 million dollars to support New Jersey’s 2020 Census outreach, which amounts to $1.00 per New Jersey resident.

Community Based Organization (CBO) Budget, Census Outreach/GOTC Activities to HTC Communities


Census Outreach Activity



Door-to-door canvassing









Phone banking



Materials development and dissemination



Administrative overhead












HTC count (NJ)[4]





Here at your inaugural Complete Count Commission meeting, we urge you to join us in championing the effort to secure the $9 million dollars to help ensure a complete 2020 Census count in New Jersey. We will also need champions in the state legislature who will co-sponsor this 2020 Census state funding request.

Collaboration between New Jersey’s state and local governmental agencies, its non-profit sector, its business community, and its community-based organizations is essential. We must all work together to raise funds, develop, and carry out a robust public education and community outreach campaign over the next 18 months.

We look forward to continuing this conversation and partnering with you to make sure that everyone, particularly the most vulnerable among are, are counted in New Jersey in 2020.

[1]Andrew Reamer, The George Washington Inst. of Pub. Policy, COUNTING FOR DOLLARS 2020: 16 LARGE FEDERAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS THAT DISTRIBUTE FUNDS ON BASIS OF DECENNIAL CENSUS-DERIVED STATISTICS 1 (2017), https://gwipp.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2181/f/downloads/New%20Jersey%20CFD%2008-18-17.pdf.

[2] Mapping Hard to Count (HTC) Communities for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census, HTC 2020, https://www.censushardtocountmaps2020.us/ (last visited Jan. 9, 2019).

[3] David Dyssegaard Kallick, et al., Fiscal Policy Inst., FUNDING A COMPLETE COUNT IN 2020: WHAT COMMUNITY GROUPS NEED 1 (2018), http://fiscalpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/FPI-Brief-Census-Outreach-Funding.pdf.

[4] See supra note 2.

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