From the onset of COVID-19, TASK has strived to meet the urgent need for food and other essential social services in Mercer County. Between a steep increase in food production, satellite meal service expansion and the launch of its new distance education model, it appears the soup kitchen staff are completely occupied these days. Yet, they recently made time for one more task…This week, TASK joined the nationwide Census PUSH effort to ensure no Trentonian goes “uncounted” during these unique times.
“The Census is critical, as the numbers dictate how federal funding will be allocated to various safety net programs on a local, county and state level,” shares TASK Executive Director, Joyce Campbell, “Programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) help meet basic needs for TASK patrons, so ensuring they get counted is a powerful means of advocacy.”
Unfortunately, the city has a poor history with Census reporting. In fact, chronically low response rates have cost New Jersey a seat in Congress the previous three surveillance cycles (1980, 1990, 2010). Last year, Trenton was among ten cities with the lowest response rates in the state; less than 3 in every 5 residents completed the survey in 2010. Though the Census is now being offered online, the web-adapted version may not be effective in Trenton where only 40 percent of households have internet access.
“When you don’t have solid data, it is hard to make informed decisions surrounding the resources that so many of our patrons depend on,” adds TASK Programs Manager and active Complete Count Committee member, Jaime Parker. “If we get more of our folks to respond to the census, we could bring more money to our community. It’s within our best interest.”
Motivated by a shared sentiment that no resident goes uncounted this year, TASK joined nearly 20 other local organizations to establish The Trenton Area Nonprofit Complete Count Committee last October. Led by Alyssa Moreno, who is also Civic Engagement Coordinator with League for Women Voters of New Jersey, the committee has prepared community leaders to guide the city toward a more robust Census response this year.
“COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges to a complete count, some of which may be overcome by the Census being available to complete online for the first time, along with over the phone or by mail,” shares Moreno. “Still, we’ll need to do more to obtain responses from those harder to count populations. Committee members are trusted voices in the community, recovering responses from this population is one of our main goals.”
While traditional “door-knocking” is set to begin on August 11, TASK has agreed to provide a space outside to help Census enumerators and other volunteers capture responses from residents, particularly among the population TASK serves. Equipped with tablets and laptops purchased through a grant provided recently by New Jersey Complete Count Commission*, Committee volunteers will help educate and assist TASK visitors to submit a completed survey, many of whom fall into historically “hard to enumerate” categories (i.e. racial and ethnic minority groups, individuals experiencing homelessness or transient housing, unemployed, living below poverty level).
No matter where you live, the U.S. Census influences the communities of us all. If you have not completed your Census yet, visit www.2020census.gov to submit your response today. For more information about steps TASK is taking to make its patrons count, contact Jaime Parker at JParker@trentonsoupkitchen.org.