With a U.S. Census deadline just days away, community organizations in Schenectady are mobilizing to get people to fill out their census forms while there’s still time.
The Schenectady Foundation, an organization that has supported charitable causes in the Electric City for more than 50 years, is leading a last-minute push to get city residents to get counted in the 2020 census.
Foundation Executive Director Robert Carreau hosted a press conference Friday at the Schenectady Boys & Girls Club, which opened its doors in late 2019.
“We urge our citizens in Schenectady County and especially in the City of Schenectady to get out, complete their census, urge their family and neighbors to also complete their census. So much depends on it,” said Carreau.
The Schenectady Foundation has produced a series of public service announcements that are being shared online and with local radio and television stations to encourage residents to be counted.
The Schenectady County census self-response rate is around 66 percent. That’s higher than the New York state average rate of 63 percent, but also behind the county’s 2010 self-response rate of 69 percent.
The City of Schenectady’s self-reporting rate is around 52 percent. It was 60 percent 10 years ago.
The location of the Boys & Girls Club was chosen because of the federal dollars that supported its long-planned construction.
Shane Bargy is Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club.
“If not for key government dollars, which use census data to help appropriate resources, I’m not sure what we would be standing inside today,” said Bargy.
The two-story, 40,000 square foot club, built next to the Mont Pleasant Middle School, is designed to accommodate 300 kids a day, and features a gymnasium, a commercial kitchen, learning labs, and the theater where Friday’s press conference was held.
But during the pandemic the facility took on a new role, serving as the headquarters for the Schenectady County COVID-19 Emergency Coalition. More than 16,500 care packages and 28,000 hot meals were provided to the community from the facility.
Jo-Anne Rafalik, Executive Director of Schenectady Community Ministries, says SiCM’s food pantry feeds over 4,000 people every month. She says food pantries, like SiCM’s, depend on federal support.
“That pantry can only stay open because of the funding that we get through the federal government that tracks down to the state government, and then local government. The Food Bank is one of our major sources of our food that we distribute, but that is also relying on the money and it also relies on how many people are being tracked through this census,” said Rafalik.
Rafalik says SiCM has been working to get guests receiving meals counted in the census. She says there’s a lot of fear from people who don’t understand the census or are concerned they’re going to be tracked.
“So the fear is if they give their name, their address, Social Security number, someone’s going to come knocking on their door. So a lot of the process of getting our guests to complete the census is that trust factor and education of saying ‘you’re gonna be safe,’” said Rafalik.
Unlike prior years, this year’s census was shortened by the Trump administration. An initial deadline was set for September 30th.
On Thursday, a federal judge in California issued a decision requiring the U.S. Census Bureau to keep counting through October 31st. On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would appeal the case.
With a timeline uncertain, William Rivas, Executive Director of the C.O.C.O.A. House, an after-school and youth-focused non-profit in Schenectady, challenged community leaders to do their part in making sure their neighbors are counted.
“I challenge myself and I challenge the other leaders in the community to go out into the community and to knock on doors. Get people to sign up,” said Rivas.
And it’s not just funding for government and community programs that’s at risk, but New York’s representation in Congress, too, said Schenectady City Councilor Marion Porterfield.
“So having the correct count has an impact on our community not just locally, but also nationally. And whatever happens nationally affects what happens locally,” said Porterfield.