As preparations begin for the upcoming 2020 Census, officials want to make sure every child is counted this time around.

“It’s estimated that about 5 percent of New Jersey’s young children under 5 were undercounted in the 2010 Census," said Alana Vega, the Kids Count Coordinator for Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

That’s about 27,000 children.

“We need to make sure all New Jersey residents are counted in order to obtain federal funding for important federal programs, to make sure that municipalities are able to plan and prepare for the future, and also for Congressional representation," she said.

She noted it’s difficult to say how much federal funding New Jersey would lose because of under-counting, but “I can say that in the fiscal year 2016, about $23 billion in federal funding was allocated to programs using Census data.”

The population count will be used to determine how much New Jersey will get in Medicaid, SNAP and Head Start funds.

So why are younger kids getting under-counted? Confusion may play a part.

“It seems as though as large percentage of families are completing their forms but then leaving their young children off of the forms,” said Vega.

“The reasons for that are unclear. It may be that families don’t realize they need to include a young child. They sometimes live in complex households with multi-generations.”

Some immigrants living here illegally may not fill out Census forms because they fear they’ll get deported.

The Trump administration wants to include a citizenship question in the next Census, which advocates and urban leaders oppose because it could scare off participants. A federal judge this week blocked the question, but the administration may appeal to the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, Vega pointed out it is against federal law for Census officials to share personal information with any other government agency.

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She noted certain counties in New Jersey are more at risk for an under-count than others, as are the larger cities of Newark, Trenton, Paterson, Jersey City and Elizabeth. ACNJ estimates 150,000 kids under age 5, or 28 percent of the total child population in the state, live in these hard-to-count areas where a low percentage of residents completed the most-recent Census questionnaire.

To address the issue, Vega said efforts are being made to stress education about the importance of the Census across the Garden State.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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