November 24, 2020

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Answering Census questions benefits Puerto Rico

Census information is the tool the U.S. government uses to define the distribution of federal funds that each of its jurisdictions, including Puerto Rico, will need. It is crucial that every family and community comply with the requirement to answer the Census questionnaire.

Puerto Rico´s Census response rate has only reached 9 percent so far. Over the past 10 years, the island has received an average of $4.808 billion annually. The Census provides the map to guide government decisions on services, infrastructure investment, and funds allocation. It also helps the private sector to plan and decide where to invest. According to socio-economic needs, nonprofits can plan and receive funds to expand their services to assist those most in need.

This current low response rate could respond, in part, to the fact that due to social distance measures seeking to stop the spread of the COVID-19, forms started reaching houses just over a week ago. Besides, homes destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes and January’s earthquakes could make it difficult to send the forms to those affected. The non-profit sector and municipalities can be instrumental in contacting those affected.

Census questions help the federal government to find out, for example, how many people rent housing and how many are homeowners. This information is an indicator of the economy and allows for the development of public policies related to housing programs.

The health care program stands out among those that use Census data, for example by 2015, the program received $311.805 million to distribute across the United States and its territories. And the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which not only impacts participants but also helps to employ more than 30,000 people in the food industry on the island, comes in second place. The third-largest federally funded program in the United States, in 2015, was Medicare Part B, which covers treatment by private physicians, medical equipment, and outpatient services and benefits most people 65 and older. According to estimates, 44 percent of the island’s population – more than 1.5 million people – were eligible for this benefit last year.

Now that Puerto Rico is facing its reconstruction process, Census data would help understand, for example, how many older adults live on the island and what health and social services they will require. Such information leads to identify, among other initiatives, where to build to cover this population´s housing needs and what job creation opportunities are available there.

Census data also leads to decisions about services for children, which determine the funding for programs such as Head Start, school lunches and other nutrition assistance divisions, which are essential to maintain stability and access to basic services for the vulnerable population.

It is also important to note that no one is authorized to ask people for information that can be used to commit fraud, such as Social Security numbers, bank account or card numbers, money, or information related to political parties. Nor does the Census questionnaire ask about the legal status. And the law ensures the confidentiality of the answers.

Those who have access to the Internet can fill it out directly through the website: For those who do not have access to the Internet, they can send the form by mail, or call the service line in Spanish: 844-468-2020.

Citizens, nonprofits, and municipal governments are tasked with the mission of ensuring high Census participation since their proximity to the people can serve as platforms to support the federal effort to have as many completed forms as possible.

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