For the first time ever, the U.S. Census Bureau will accept responses online as a way to count residents in 2020, in addition to accepting responses in person, by mail and over the phone.

This modern addition could reduce the number of Garden State residents who fail to submit responses to the decennial Census — even those who may have been avoiding the count on purpose.

Those charged with encouraging participation in the upcoming count want New Jerseyans to know the Census is safe and secure, and affects the way federal funding is distributed to communities throughout the state.

"We want to get the most accurate count out there," said Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, D-Gloucester. "In the last Census, the state of New Jersey was grossly undercounted, therefore we were underfunded."

Mosquera is one of 27 members who make up the NJ Complete Count Commission, which was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018. The commission has already held three public hearings as part of its outreach strategy to encourage full Census participation. Its efforts will continue through next year — population counts must be handed into the feds by Dec. 31, 2020.

It was estimated by the Census Bureau that it missed counting 31,000 New Jersey residents in 2010, according to a report by NJ Spotlight. Accounting for the margin of error, the report said, the undercount may have been as high as 181,100 people, or the census may have overcounted the state's population by up to 119,000.

The state's population count not only affects the amount of federal funding headed to each state; it also can impact the boundaries of legislative districts, as well as the size of New Jersey's representation in Congress.

Mosquera said no New Jersey resident should be "scared of the U.S. Census," including unauthorized immigrants who may avoid contact due to fear their responses can be used against them.

"It is actually against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any Census information that identifies the individual," Mosquera said, noting a financial penalty is possible for those who wrongfully disclose this information.

Census employees will not ask individuals for personal information such as their social security number or bank account number, or ask for monetary donations, Mosquera said.

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