Emily Byrne helped lawmakers count — which in return will help New Haven count. When it really counts. Byrne is the new executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children , a 25-year-old New Haven-based statewide research and advocacy group. On Oct. 30 the group issued a report detailing how most states — at least 31 — are pouring money into helping make sure that their communities are fully counted in the 2020 census. At that point, Connecticut hadn’t. The report — read it here— pointed out that Connecticut has suffered in the past by undercounting. The state lost a Congressional seat after the 2000 census as a result. It risks losing another one if undercounting occurs again in 2020. And New Haven’s hardest-to-count neighborhoods have in the past had as low as a 58.7 percent return rate on mailing in census forms. The stakes are high: The state receives $10.7 billion a year (2016 figure) in federal dollars for vital programs that keep families in those same neighborhoods fed, healthy, housed, and educated. Those dollars depend on the census count. The day after the Voices report came out, the state government announced it had found $500,000 to put toward the census effort. Foundations have added another $1.1 million or so as well.
Byrne noted that the report alone didn’t make that $500,000 appear. A story by the Connecticut Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas put the issue on the state’s radar. The Voices report added factual heft on which officials could act. And top officials did act. It took a village. A village with voices. That fits into how Voices sees its role, Byrne said Tuesday during an appearance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program: “We create justice based on facts.” She described Voices as a “think-and-do tank.” Now Voices is pushing for more state and foundation money to go into the census outreach effort. Its report set a goal of $3.57 million, to match the state’s 3.57 million residents dollar for dollar. Byrne also called for a special session of the state legislature — or a “concurrent session” when the regular session opens in February — to funnel those extra dollars into the effort before the census count kicks into gear in early March.