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Census Response Lags National Rate In Parts Of The Capital Region

U.S. Census Bureau
Census workers wear PPE and practice social distancing.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, local government officials, determined to prevent undercounts, tried to spread the word that the Census was coming. Now, Census takers have hit the streets before the September 30 deadline.

Officials say communities that are undercounted risk missing out on $675 billion in federal funds over the next decade. That includes funding for housing, transportation, health care, education, and emergency response. Jeff Behler is director for the U.S. Census Bureau's New York Region.

"Looking at the national picture, we're at 64.6 percent self-response rate. And self-response is when a household goes online 2020census.gov, they call one of our toll-free telephone numbers, or they fill out the paper form and mail it back in. When you take that 64.6 percent and add in percentages of households nationwide that have been enumerated by our census-takers knocking on doors, which is 14.6 percent to date, that takes us up to 72.9 percent of the addresses in the country that have been enumerated. If you look at New York State, that number is 75.7. Roughly 60.7 have self-responded and another 15.1 percent have been completed by having census-takers throughout the state of New York knock on doors and collect information.”

With local officials concerned that many poor households and communities of color will not be counted, the Census Bureau is now following up with households that haven't responded online, by phone, or by mail. Hundreds of thousands of census takers across the country began going door-to-door in August. Behler says response is critical, especially as communities try to recover from coronavirus shutdowns.

"So when we talk about representation it's at at every level of government, from the number of seats that New York will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, the number of votes in the Electoral College, New York state will use this data to redistrict, to draw their voting precincts and school districts, local governments will use it to determine council member districts or assembly member districts. Businesses use this data. They wanna grow in the communities where they know they'll have a customer base and they'll have the ability to hire employees. And then we talk about that special funding. Hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding are disseminated every year based upon formulas that use census data. Programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps. You look at the infrastructure of our communities from the roads, the bridges, the tunnels, the mass transit system. Funding comes into the community based upon formulas that use census data. Education, national school lunch and breakfast programs. Title I grants applied for classrooms. Head start. Pell grants for college students. And finally I can't think of a more timely reason than to support our local health care system."

Behler notes census-takers have official identification, wear masks and practice social distancing.

"The census truly is safe. We talk about how easy it is, whether it is on your smartphone or tablet, and finally, we get one opportunity every 10 years where we see what's at stake for the next 10 years. Let's make sure your communities get the funding they deserve to fulfill the needs that they have."

The self-response rate in the Capital Region ranges from 66.6 percent in Saratoga County, to 50.3 percent in Schoharie County.

Schenectady, Dutchess, Orange and Albany counties fall in the 64 percent range. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy:

"If we don't get a fair count and people don't get counted, it has a ripple effect. And you know I feel bad for Mayor Sheehan and the city of Albany, because we might not hit that 100,000 mark this year. If everyone here got counted and the fact that people shut down, went home, or people left the area or they're not filling it out. We've pushed it, at our daily briefings in the beginning for people to fill this out, and I'm hoping that with the last final push here, that our numbers get to where we need to get dollars into the community so we can better serve you."

As the numbers change daily, you can check the U.S. Census Response Rate Map and the Rankings yourself.

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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