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Op-Ed: Puerto Rico’s 2020 Census response rates have improved, but there’s still a long way to go

As of earlier this week, roughly 2 million Puerto Ricans out of the island’s estimated 3.2 million residents have thus far completed the 2020 Census. This response rate represents 79.1% participation.

While this is an improvement from earlier numbers, the island still has 20% of its citizens uncounted. An undercounting of the island’s residents may cause Puerto Rico to be excluded from a myriad of programs but, most notably, from the $1.5 trillion per year allocations in federal funding by Congress.

As we continue to move forward with the island’s recovery, it is essential to ensure adequate headcount of our residents to guarantee access to all available federal funds.

Puerto Ricans have less than one month to be counted in the 2020 Census to play an integral part in shaping the island’s future. 

Since the fall of 2017, Puerto Rico has been impacted by three major disasters and a global pandemic. These natural disasters have displaced individuals and families, taken the lives of thousands, affected major infrastructure, created the biggest blackout in U.S. history, and impaired the island’s ability to grow its economy.

Today, Puerto Rico continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic with thousands infected by a novel virus that has affected millions worldwide. Congress and federal agencies use the Census to ensure reasonable allocation of funding, therefore an accurate count of citizens can aid in the recovery of the island.

The Census not only provides demographic data for our nation, but it is also used to determine specific allocations for programs that use federal funds. COVID-19, unfortunately, has affected the administration of 2020 Census.

Initially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the counting deadline was pushed to Oct. 31, 2020, but then recently reverted to Sept. 30, 2020. Today, the United States has counted almost an 84% of its population, and with less than four weeks to go, more than 15% of our Nation’s population has not been counted.

An undercount of Puerto Ricans in the 2020 Census will have adverse effects on the island’s recovery. By participating in the U.S. Census, individuals guarantee that they are counted for the government’s most significant decisions.

Among the many programs that use the Census for allocating funds are health care, disaster preparedness, and civil rights laws and policies. A zip code can guarantee how healthy you are, knowing how many people are in a given community can help identify hotspots for disease, as we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children living in poverty or in homes where their caretakers speak little English, as is the case in Puerto Rico, are more likely to qualify for meal assistance programs, including food assistance programs, so long as the Census counts them.

It is worth noting that over two-fifths of all residents of Puerto Rico (43%) and over half of children (57%) lived in poverty in 2018.

Due to its geographical location, the island of Puerto Rico is prone to natural disasters, with the past three years being one of the worst. In the days before a storm, federal agencies like FEMA start diverting resources to places they think will be hit the hardest, and the Census plays a vital part in identifying vulnerable populations and drawing solutions; minorities are often undercounted in the Census, which makes it harder to prepare them for disasters and meet their needs after.

The Census serves as a tool to identify which pockets of the country lack fast and reliable internet in an effort to connect individual residents and communities.

Author Jennifer M. Storipan is the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

Thus far, reports show that the municipalities with the best response rate for the Census were in the north side of the island, headed by Guaynabo; and the lowest number of responses, headed by island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, were in the west and center of the island, the most rural parts of Puerto Rico.

Completing the U.S. Census takes 10 minutes, and it determines communities’ next 10 years.

As individuals, we must ask ourselves: Am I willing to let 10 minutes determine my next decade?

I urge you to complete the 2020 Census before Sept. 30, 2020 to ensure you and your family gets counted. Visit My2020census.gov today.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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