New Jersey plans to spend $9 million over the next year to promote participation in the 2020 Census, knowing that seats in Congress and billions in federal spending are on the line if people don’t fill out the form.

That amount is $7 million more than Gov. Phil Murphy initially proposed for the state’s Complete Count Commission. That funding then was not among the 64 line items frozen by Murphy, who put $235 million of appropriations into reserve until the state achieves savings or exceeds revenue projections in the budget.

“We’re glad to see that that money went through,” said Peter Chen, coordinator for the Census 2020 NJ Coalition and policy counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “We think it’s a modest but appropriate amount of money for outreach.”

Chen said the recommendation was developed by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which looked at the outreach budget in other states.

“The rough calculation is about a dollar per person to ensure coverage across the state,” Chen said. “It’s a bit of a rule of thumb, but it seems like that’s where a lot of the numbers came down. Now some states are spending a lot more than a dollar per person.”

California plans to spend nearly $155 million. Illinois is spending $29 million, New York $20 million. Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania are spending nothing.

New Jersey had provided $500,000 in last year’s budget, bringing its total budget to $9.5 million.

The state hasn’t yet said how it will spend the money. The commission outlined its priorities in a late June report, which Chen described as having three main areas: a media/communications campaign, a local organizing component and a governmental outreach component.

“We’re hoping that a lot of that funding is turned around to local efforts and in particular local community-based and nonprofit organizations, who are going to be the ones of doing a lot of the census outreach in the hardest-to-count areas,” Chen said.

“We know that the groups that hard-to-count communities trust are the kinds of organizations that they interact with on a regular basis,” he said. “So whether that’s their church, whether that’s their child-care center or their school, if that’s their pediatrician or their doctor, these are the kinds of voices that are going to be effective messengers.”

The Institute for Social Justice had suggested a budget in its testimony to the Complete Count Commission: $1.8 million each for door-to-door canvassing, communications and materials development and dissemination; $1.35 million each to ‘train the trainers’ and for administrative overhead; and $900,000 for phone banking.

Nearly 2 million New Jersey residents live in areas considered hard-to-count in next year’s census.

That’s often though not exclusively because of the large immigrant population, some of which may have been spooked by the debate over asking about immigration status on the form. Rural areas can be tough to count, too, because the Census Bureau only mails forms to physical addresses, not post office boxes.

There’s also distrust of government and a general trend toward ignoring surveys. Chen said a Census Bureau survey found that 74% of people say they’re extremely likely to respond to their census form, down from 85% in 2010.

“We’re already anticipating this is likely going to be one of the most challenging censuses in history – like, since 1790, when they had to ride around on horseback and find all of the people door to door,” Chen said.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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