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Census 2020 for New York Libraries: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

About this section

See below for Frequently Asked Questions and answers from the American Library Association's guide to the census. In the drop-down menu, there are also  FAQ's for:

What can libraries do and how can libraries prepare?

From ALA's Libraries' Guide to the 2020 Census FAQ

Responding to the 2020 Census

When does the 2020 Census start?

The enumeration starts in remote Alaska on January 21, 2020, but most households will receive their census materials by U.S. mail or hand delivery starting in mid-March. Online and telephone response options will be available starting after March 12.

What is “Census Day,” and why is it important?

April 1 is “Census Day.” When you respond to the census, you tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020, and include everyone living in your home on that day (including newborns and anyone staying there who does not have a usual home elsewhere). While April 1 is the reference date, people can submit their questionnaire before or after that date.

When is the last day people can respond?

To avoid a home visit from a Census Bureau employee, people should respond before the end of April 2020. The Census Bureau will begin in-person visits in May, although households can still respond online, by phone, or by mail until July 31.

How long does it take to fill out the form?

The Census Bureau estimates that it will take about 10 minutes to complete the census questionnaire, depending on the number of people in the household.

What happens if I leave some responses blank?

The Census Bureau strongly encourages respondents to answer every question for every person in the household, but will allow submission of incomplete questionnaires. Bureau staff may follow up on incomplete submissions.

In what languages will the paper form be available?

Paper questionnaires will be either in English or bilingual English-Spanish (with Spanish-only forms in Puerto Rico).

What should people do if they have a question or problem?

The Census Questionnaire Assistance phone line will be available with live customer service representatives supporting 13 languages and TDD from March 9 through July 31. Call toll-free 844-330-2020 in English, and see page 17 for other languages. People can also find general answers about the 2020 Census at

Online response option

Do people have to respond online?

No, households have the option to respond to the census online, by phone, or by mail.

In what languages will the online form be printed?

The online form will be available in English and 12 non-English languages: Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Can people respond on a smartphone or tablet?

Yes, the online form will be optimized to allow people to respond on a smartphone or tablet.

Is the online system secure?

Yes, the Census Bureau has taken significant steps to protect online responses. All information entered online is encrypted as soon as the respondent hits “submit.”

How will we know if the census online form was successfully submitted?

Once a respondent completes and submits the online form, a new screen will confirm submission. The respondent may print that page for their records. The Census Bureau will not email or text households to confirm response to the census.

Can library staff help people complete the online form?

In certain ways, yes. Library staff can direct respondents to the response option that best suits their needs: online, phone, mail, or a census taker visit to their home. Library staff can also point respondents to the online questionnaire guides in English and 59 other languages. In addition, library staff can explain basic features of the online form, such as how to navigate the pages or change the language. However, only Census Bureau employees may collect responses directly from individuals, and only they are sworn for life to keep an individual’s responses confidential. For more guidance, see the Census Bureau’s Questions and Answers for Stakeholders Supporting the 2020 Census.

Census operations

Where do active military personnel and their families get counted?

If stationed at a military installation in the United States, they will be counted at their usual residence either on-base or off-base. If stationed overseas, they will be counted as part of the federally affiliated overseas population, conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense. If they are stationed stateside but deployed overseas during the census, they will be counted at their usual residence in the U.S. If they are aboard a military vessel, they will be counted at either their usual U.S. residence or as a part of the federally affiliated overseas population—depending on whether the vessel’s homeport is in the U.S. or overseas. Learn more at GCPI’s Counting Military Personnel fact sheet.

Is there a way to report scams if we see them?

Report suspected fraud to the Census Bureau at 800-923-8282. To report false information, email

How do I identify an official census worker in person or over the phone?

Census workers must present an ID badge with their photo, the U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date. See these tips to identify Census Bureau employees. To verify, people can call Census Questionnaire Assistance (see page 17), enter the name into the Census Bureau Staff Search, or call their Regional Census Center.

How can my library get 2020 Census materials or other resources from the Census Bureau?

The Census Bureau offers free downloadable outreach materials. For information about events, materials, and other opportunities, contact the Partnership Specialist in your area (see page 16).

Helping with hard-to-count communities

What languages will be supported in the 2020 Census?

The online and telephone questionnaires will be offered in 13 languages (including English). The paper form will be in English and bilingual English-Spanish, with Spanish-only forms in Puerto Rico. The Census Bureau also will provide language guides in 59 non-English languages that help respondents fill out the form in English.

In what ways will responding to the census be accessible for people with disabilities?

The Census Bureau will disseminate language guides in braille and large print to respondents through their partnership programs. Respondents will also have access to a video guide in American Sign Language to help complete the census online. Additionally, respondents may choose to complete the census in English via a phone line that uses Telephone Device for the Deaf (TDD/TTY) technology. Learn more at GCPI’s FAQ on An Accessible 2020 Census.

Can census responses be shared with law enforcement or other government agencies?

No. Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of personal information provided in census responses. Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing personal census responses with any other government agencies, courts, or private entities, for any purpose. Census staff take a lifetime oath to protect census responses, with severe penalties for violations. The law prohibits personal information collected by the Census Bureau from being used against respondents by any government agency or court.

I heard the U.S. Government used census data to identify and intern Japanese Americans during World War II. Why should we trust the government now?

The Census Act (Title 13 U.S.C.) did not provide the same level of strict confidentiality protections then as it does now. Further-more, the standard protections that existed at the time were suspended under the Second War Powers Act starting in March 1942. Confidentiality provisions tied to census data were reinstated in 1947, and Congress subsequently amended the Census Act to close any potential “loopholes” related to the strict prohibition on sharing personally identifiable data outside of the Census Bureau for any purpose. In 2010, the U.S. Justice Department determined that the Patriot Act does not override the law that protects the confidentiality of individual census responses. No court of law can subpoena census responses or enforce such a subpoena issued by another entity (e.g., a government agency).

How can libraries help address the undercount of people experiencing homelessness?

Library staff can raise awareness of the fact that people experiencing homelessness have been undercounted in the past, depriving their communities of fair representation and funding for programs such as housing vouchers, Medicaid and home-less youth programs. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless states: The best way to be sure they are counted is for them to speak with staff at the location where they receive services to confirm when and where the census workers will be coming (March 30–April 1). They can share this information with others who are homeless so they can be counted, too. Keep in mind, however, that some people experiencing homelessness may be temporarily staying in a household at the time of the census. It is vital that those households include these members on their census forms.

How should non-binary and transgender people complete the census form?

The National LGBTQ Task Force states: Like many surveys, the census restricts responses to “male” or “female” only. Trans-gender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people can self-identify in the way that feels most comfortable for them. The Census Bureau does not cross-reference individuals’ answers on the census with any other documentation.

Census hiring

Can people with criminal records be hired to help with the 2020 Census?

The Census Bureau will make hiring decisions on a case-by-case basis, following a background check that includes fingerprinting and a records search.

Can non-citizens be hired to help with the 2020 Census?

The Census Bureau can hire work-authorized non-citizens for temporary census jobs when a qualified citizen is not available, such as for positions that require non-English language skills. Jobseekers can apply at

What is the census, and why is it important?

The census, conducted once every ten years, is the constitutionally-required count of every person living in the United States. It's a huge and complex endeavor, one with an enormous impact on all our communities. The 2020 Census will be the first to urge most households to respond online, but people will have the option of responding by phone or paper questionnaire.

The decennial census form asks questions about all the people who live and sleep in a household most of the time--including babies and anyone who has no other permanent place to stay and is staying on the house hold--as of April 1, 2020. The census form should take about 10 minutes to complete, depending on the number of people in the household.

Census data are used to make decisions about how and where to spend more than $800 billion each year for programs and services that communities rely on. The census population count is used to determine representation in Congress (known as reapportionment) and the Electoral College. Simply put, communities that are undercounted are disadvantaged economically and politically. 

Communities also use census data for planning purposes. For example, local school districts may not be able to plan effectively for changing needs if large numbers of young children are not counted, as has been the case in previous censuses. Census data help local leaders make planning decisions about where municipal services should be located, whether they should expand, and what kinds of services should be offered based on the characteristics of the community.

We only have one shot every ten years to get the census right. If we don't, undercounted groups won't get the appropriate level of funding for programs needed in their neighborhoods, and local leaders and officials won't have the reliable information they need to make decisions.   


How will the online response option work?

Almost all households will receive an invitation letter in the mail with instructions for responding to the census online. The invitation will include a unique identification code called a Census ID or User ID. Using the Census ID helps the Bureau keep track of responses and prevent duplication. However, the Census ID is not required in order to respond online or by telephone. If respondents don’t have their Census ID handy, they can use their address instead.

The online questionnaire will be available in 13 languages (Arabic, Chinese [Simplified], English, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese). If respondents have questions about the online form, they can contact Census Questionnaire Assistance for support in the same 13 languages. Respondents can also complete the questionnaire over the phone when they call. 

What is new and different about the 2020 Census?

Online Self-Response

For the first time, the Census Bureau will promote online response as the preferred method. The Census Bureau's mailing list will include an ID code for the householder (that is, the person responding for each household) to enter when they respond online in order to identify their address. However, if respondents don't have an ID code, they can enter their home address instead

For many people, the online response option will make it easier and more convenient to respond. However, other people may prefer not to respond online, such as those with limited internet proficiency or who lack reliable internet access. If people have trouble with the online system or don't want to respond online, they can call Census Questionnaire Assistance for help or to respond by phone, also using the same unique ID number or giving their home address in the absence of one. 

 Household Relationship Question

For the first time, the 2020 Census offers a way for the person filling out the form to indicate a same-sex relationship with another household member. This change (see Figure 1) is expected to improve national statistics on same-sex couples

Citizenship Question

In March 2018, The Secretary of Commerce directed the Census bureau to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.However, three federal district courts ruled against the inclusion of the question in early 2019 in court cases challenging the legality and constitutionality of adding it. The government appealed those decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2019 that the question will not be allowed on the 2020 Census.

Advocates, including the American Library Association, expressed concern about the addition of the question to the 2020 Census. "Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would suppress Census response, distorting the statistics and making them less informative," said ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo in August 2018. ALA also joined other national organizations in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing the additional question. 

Even though the question is not included in the census, damage still might have been done to marginalized communities who are fearful about revealing their citizenship status. t is important to know that Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of personally identifiable information collected on the census, including any information about citizenship status. The law prohibits the Census bureau from sharing personal census responses with any other government agency (at any level), court of law (including administrative courts), or private entity, for any purpose, including law enforcement. As an added protection, individuals' personal census information may not be used to harm them or their families in any way. 

Who is at risk of being undercounted in 2020?

Historically, certain groups of people have been undercounted disproportionately by the decennial census. These groups are considered hard-to-count because the Census Bureau finds them challenging to interview, locate, contact, or persuade. Traditionally undercounted populations include young children, American Indians and Alaska Natives, people experiencing homelessness, and people of color, among others. The undercounting of these groups can undermine their political power and reduce access to crucial public and private resources in the communities
where they live

Young Children 

Young children (ages 0–5) are considered hard-to-count. In particular, young Black and Hispanic children were overlooked at roughly twice the rate as young, non-Hispanic White children in the 2010 Census. Young children are undercounted, in part, because millions of them live in the types of households, families, and neighborhoods that are the most difficult to enumerate. Additionally, families are often unsure whether to include young children on their census forms. Special attention is needed to reach these households and make sure they report all
children, including babies, on their 2020 Census questionnaire.

Children are included in the population totals used for congressional reapportionment and the drawing of legislative district boundaries. When children are undercounted, political boundaries do not accurately reflect the entire population, and young children’s needs may not be appropriately represented or prioritized. Every year, more than $800 billion in federal funds are allocated to states and localities based on census data. Many programs whose funding is based in whole or in part on census counts directly impact young children’s lives,
including Head Start, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Other Hard-to-Count Groups 

The Census Bureau recognizes a variety of groups as hard to count:

  • Complex households, including those with blended families, multi-generations or non-relatives
  • Cultural and linguistic minorities, and people who do not speak English fluently
  • Displaced people affected by a disaster
  • People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning
  • People with low incomes
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • People less likely to use the internet and others without internet access
  • People who have distrust in the government
  • People with disabilities
  • People without a high school diploma
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Renters
  • People who are undocumented immigrants or recent immigrants
  • Young children
  • Young, mobile people

For more information on hard-to-count groups, see the following fact sheets:

How households will receive the Census mailings

Some households will not receive census materials through the mail. And people living in group facilities, or whose home is transitory, are counted through different methods. The additional census methods and operations are described below. Anyone who is not sure how they will be counted will be able to call Census Questionnaire Assistance for more information. 

Group Quarters (e.g., College Dorms, Military Bases, Prisons)

 The Census Bureau uses a different method to count people in group living situations, called "group quarters," such as college student housing, prisons, military barracks, and nursing homes. In some of those cases, the facility administrator will work with local 2020 Census office staff to collect the information for the people residing there; those individuals will not respond directly to the Census Bureau.

Remote and Rural Areas 

Some rural and all remote areas, such as those without reliable mail delivery or traditional mailing addresses as well as communities recovering from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding, will not receive a mailed invitation from the Census Bureau. Instead, census workers will hand-deliver materials as they update the address list, or count households in person as they go door-to-door.

People Experiencing Homelessness 

The Census Bureau will count people experiencing homelessness (and who are not part of a household) at the places where they receive services, such as shelters and soup kitchens. (This operation is called Service-Based Enumeration.) The Census Bureau will also conduct a count of people sleeping outdoors. In addition, the Bureau will count people staying in transitory locations such as motels, campgrounds, and migrant farm-worker camps, through the Enumeration of Transitory Locations operation. However, people who are staying in the home of a friend or family member as of Census Day should be counted on the questionnaire for that household if the person does not have a usual home elsewhere.

Mail Contact Strategies

In the 2020 Census, about 95 percent of housing units will receive their census invitations in the mail. The U.S. Census Bureau will send up to five mailings, to encourage you to respond online, by mail, or by phone. This map shows which Census tracts will receive English, Bilingual, Internet-only, and Internet-choice mailings.

What will I be asked?

As required by the Census Act, the U.S. Census Bureau submitted a list of questions to Congress on March 29, 2018. Based on those questions, the 2020 Census will ask:

  • How many people are living or staying in your home on April 1, 2020. This will help count the country's population, and ensure that people are counted once, only once, and in the right place according to where they live on Census Day.
  • Whether the home is owned or rented. This will help produce statistics about homeownership and renters. The rates of homeownership serve as one indicator of the nation's economy. They also help in administering housing programs and informing planning decisions.
  • About the sex of each person in the household. This allows the Census Bureau to create statistics about males and females, which can be used in planning and funding government programs. This data can also be used to enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination.
  • About the age of each person in the household. Similar to recording the sex of each person, the U.S. Census Bureau creates statistics to better understand the size and characteristics of different age groups. Agencies use this data to plan and fund government programs that support specific age groups, including children and older populations. 
  • About the race of each person in the household. This allows the Census Bureau to create statistics about race and to present other statistics by racial groups. This data helps federal agencies monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as under the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.
  • About whether a person in the household is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. These responses help create statistics about this ethnic group. This is needed by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as those under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
  • About the relationship of each person in the household to one central person. This allows the Census Bureau to create estimates about families, households, and other groups. Relationship data is used in planning and funding government programs that support families, including people raising children alone, and other households that qualify for additional assistance.
  • About the citizenship status of each person. A question about a person's citizenship is used to create statistics about citizen and noncitizen populations. These statistics are essential for enforcing the Voting Rights Act and its protections against voting discrimination.  This question was ruled unconstitutional in 2019 and WILL NOT be included.


The Census Will Never Ask Certain Questions 

The Census Bureau will never ask you for:

  • Your social security number
  • Money or donations
  • Anything on behalf of a political party
  • Your bank or credit card account numbers

If someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau asks you for one of these things, you may be the target or victim of a scam. For more information, visit Avoiding Fraud and Scams


What happens to my answers?

Your personal information is kept confidential. The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by federal law to protect your information, and your data is used only for statistical purposes.

The Census Bureau combines your responses with information from other households to produce these statistics, which never identify your household or any person in your household. 

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