Census spokesperson in Puerto Rico, Gisselle laffitte, assured that they have faced many difficulties – from threats with firearms to insults – to complete the process of counting the citizens, which is a requirement by federal law, and which ends on September 30.
The official explained that the information collected by the census takers is used by the United States Chamber of Commerce to plan the economy, find out where the places with the greatest need are, and thus allocate or subtract federal funds.
Among those obstacles that they have found, he highlighted that there are administrators of apartments and urbanizations with access control that do not allow entry to census takers, with the excuse that they do not like to “bother” residents. This has led to the use of the municipal police on some occasions.
“We are concerned that there are many access control places that are not letting us enter. If they don’t help us, the percent will not reach 100, which is what we all need so that the money that Puerto Rico deserves to arrive correctly. If we do not count all of them, that affects – those who were counted and those who were not counted – because it will completely displace the economy, because they will not receive services for everyone, “said Laffitte.
According to the spokesperson, that would cause the Puerto Ricans “to move from Puerto Rico”, “that there are no jobs” and that the people “are upset with the government.”
“There would be an economic tragedy if they do not allow us that access and get to count everyone in Puerto Rico by September 30 … We can lose billions of dollars annually and, if you multiply it by ten years, we would lose billions of dollars” , added.
Threats with weapons
On the other hand, census takers have had shocking experiences in which residents have threatened them with firearms and insulted them.
“The census taker’s job is difficult, arduous and dangerous. We have seen each other in cases where census takers have said: ‘I’m not going to go to that place again because they already threatened me or took out a revolver or told me very ugly things.’ All people have to have a little patience and understand that this is an extremely difficult job, but important. They have to put themselves in the shoes of that employee that what they are doing is their work for the benefit of Puerto Rico and all the people who live here, ”he said.
So far, there are more than 3,500 census takers working on the Island. While others are still in training to go out on the streets soon.
“We have had many difficulties, many, with people. A lot of annoyance and apathy and then they don’t help us. And this is for the benefit of all “Laffitte said.
Likewise, he stressed that people should not be afraid of COVID-19 since census takers take preventive measures, have masks and maintain their distance.
“If the person doesn’t want to open the door, they can answer through the window, because that won’t take five minutes. There are people who ask the census taker for a cell phone and call him from in front of the house and give him the information, “he said.
Up to 5 visits
Also, the official warned that residents could receive up to five visits from census takers.
He explained that this census is not only population-based but also housing, and that some of these visits are due to the fact that the people who filled out the questionnaire online placed addresses that are not compatible in the system. In addition, they verify that the address matches the number of people living in the residence.
“If the system does not register a number, a point, something that was left to the resident, we have to verify and re-verify,” he said.
Likewise, they could be visited by employees of Quality Control, a division of the Census that works arbitrarily and independently that verifies the work carried out by the census takers.
In addition, Laffitte noted that the Census is also conducted the Community Survey, information that is published every two years. It has been carried out since 2005, and every month census takers go to 1,000 households to collect detailed information on, for example, poverty, transportation and consumption. This helps the Census to be only a dozen questions.
“Anyone at this time, even if they fill out the short questionnaire, a census taker can go to leave the long questionnaire, which has 75 questions, it is very specific,” he said.
We are no longer the least answered
On other issues, the spokesperson indicated that Puerto Rico is no longer the jurisdiction with the lowest level of response in the entire United States, as we were in July.
In the Country, the delivery of questionnaires house to house occurred from May 22 to mid-June. It was at the end of July that the follow-up phase began due to lack of response.
Until today, 32.3% of the people filled out the questionnaire on their own. Meanwhile, the field work, in this follow-up phase, has managed to obtain 75.8%.
However, Laffitte pointed out that Puerto Rico should not be compared with the North American republic because the “lock-down” imposed by Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced in search of preventing the spread of the coronavirus paralyzed local operations. In the United States, most people got their questionnaire by mail in March.
“Not Puerto Rico, because our job was to deliver that questionnaire by hand because we had to verify the addresses. The operation in Puerto Rico was a little different from the United States, not in the sense of date but in that our operation was to go and leave the questionnaire directly at home. It has to do with addresses, in the rural area you have a lot of mailboxes together, you don’t know where it goes. We cannot send it to any PO Box because we do not know who the questionnaire will reach. We had to wait until May 22 to start, when we are supposed to start on March 15 ”, he explained.
Although the deadline to fill out the questionnaire is September 30, the Census spokeswoman urged people not to wait until the last day because if the address does not match that of the system, there will be no people who can verify the information.