Today’s news:

Census Bureau begins campaign to track city residents

The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off its 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour in Times Square Monday, a public awareness campaign to get city residents to participate in the count.

“The Road Tour seeks to educate and empower every person living across our country to take part and participate in the 2010 Census,” said U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves.

Attendees at the event learned about the census and how it affects their communities.

Taken once every 10 years, the census is used to apportion congressional seats and determines how to distribute $400 billion in federal funding.

In Queens, Borough President Helen Marshall formed what she called a “complete count committee” in November to make sure all Queens residents are counted in the 2010 Census.

Part of the committee’s goal is to alleviate fear among the borough’s undocumented immigrants, who may believe that the information from the census can be used to deport them.

The census process is confidential and information is not shared with federal, state or city agencies.

“Even when we lower the fear ratio, here in Queens — America’s most diverse county — we face unique challenges fueled by a multitude of languages spoken in a multicultural society,” the borough president said.

The city’s census response rate in 2000 was 55 percent — 12 percent below the nationwide average. Queens’ response rate was 54 percent, the second-lowest in the city.

In areas of Richmond Hill and southwestern Queens, some response rates were lower than 40 percent.

“Many of the people living in our community have not been accurately counted in previous census surveys,” said state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). “Such low, inaccurate census counts in our borough in 2000 resulted in lower per capita funding, as compared to Manhattan and Brooklyn, for vital services affecting all our residents who depend on libraries, schools and hospitals.”

For the first time, census forms will also be mailed in Spanish to households in heavily Spanish-speaking census tracts. A language guide will also be sent out to inform non-English speakers how they can obtain the form in their language.

The questionnaire has also been reduced to 10 questions and should take no more than 10 minutes to complete, according to Census officials.

The questions involve asking a respondent’s name, age, ethnicity, relationship and whether they own or rent a home.

Questionnaires are scheduled to be mailed between February and March and need to be returned April 1.

Census workers will be visiting households that did not mail back the forms between April and July.

President Barack Obama is expected to receive the census information in December.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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