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Pandemic Impacts Capital Region Census Efforts

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For months, Capital Region officials tried to promote participation in U.S. Census counting this spring. Then came the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 Census arrived as America started fighting back against COVID-19. For all practical purposes, the count has gone digital, which may be a good thing, as people working and studying from home are racking up heavy internet use, and the census form is just a click away. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy:    "We've been pushing it out there to make sure that people are out there doing it because we have $1 trillion in federal funding for programs like the Children's Health Insurance, Medicaid, student loans, SNAP, the crime, victim support and road and bridge construction that we have to worry about. So all the county right now, we stand at like, I think 36.9% ahead of the national response rate, and even further ahead in New York City's rate. And we're doing better than obviously, Rensselaer County and Saratoga and Schenectady because we're trying to get that count number up there. Because this is going to when things go back to normal and things eventually will go back to normal. We're gonna need that federal funding; it’s gonna affect for the next 10 years."
The U. S. Census Bureau postponed the start of counts for the homeless and people living in group quarters like college dorms and nursing homes. And it pushed back the deadline from the end of July to mid-August. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan is concerned about the city's numbers, now that local colleges have sent students home.
 "We are able to count the students who live in dorms. But we know that there are a significant number of students who do not live in dorms. They live in neighborhoods in the city of Albany. And some of those are neighborhoods that require a significant amount of our DGS crews working, police calls, you know, they they are a huge demand on resources. Those students went home, those students went back to their communities. They should have been counted in Albany. They still should be counted in Albany, but our ability to get the word out and to make that happen has been lost."
Sheehan expects that will result in a reduction in the percentage of sales tax dollars from Albany County, which she says will hurft the city for the next decade to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy says the Electric City will suffer as well.  "We're called an entitlement community. So we get every year, Community Development Block Grant funding. Iit's about $2.4 million that is allocated on the basis of the census. It's  one of the direct things that are out there.  People tend to focus on the federal money that comes directly as result of it. As we go forward, the state legislature also uses some of the census data to allocate money based on that, so that is, they're using an impartial, fair assessment of residents within a community in different demographics that exist across the state. So it's something that sometimes it's not obvious to people, but it is very important not only for direct funding, but for planning purposes, just want to encourage people to fill out the census form and do it in an accurate manner."
Most census takers aren't expected to start visiting homes until late May. Until then, the bureau is pushing people to respond so they won’t have anyone knocking on their doors.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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