The people most likely to slip through the cracks from an incomplete census count — the homeless and transient, young children, immigrants and minorities, the poor — are the very ones that will be hurt by them not being counted.
Congressional representation and tens of billions of dollars from the state and federal government for social, employment and educational programs are at stake when the census people start mailing out their surveys and knocking on our doors next spring.
So it’s vital that when Schenectady County ramps up its efforts to ensure that everyone is counted, they do everything possible to get out the word to all residents and to reach as many people as they can.
The leaders of the local Complete Count committee obviously know that. But knowing the goal and being able to reach it are two different things.
Fortunately, there are some counties and regions around the state that have already gotten a jump start on the mission that can serve as role models for local officials to approach the count and help them in their efforts to reach the people who need to be reached most effectively.
Dutchess County, for instance, has a 15-member Complete Count Committee headed by the former editorial editor at The Poughkeepsie Journal and made up of representatives from religious organizations, family services groups, library officials, educational organizations, college professors and community organizers representing the Latin and Hispanic communities, public libraries and human rights organizations.
Since July, the county grouop has embarked on an aggressive outreach program that includes a PowerPoint presentation in two languages (English and Spanish) supplemented by having members of their team on hand at community forums to answer the public’s questions about local census issues.
Since the end of July, the group has hosted or attended nearly 20 public events, including government board meetings, ethnic heritage festivals, town community day events, musical events and their own meetings at public libraries.
The idea is to get out to every corner of the community to spread the word about the importance of ensuring a full and accurate count.
In Brooklyn, Kings County, which claims to be the most difficult county in the state to count its citizens — with more than 80 percent of Brooklyn residents living in hard-to-count neighborhoods and a measly 66 percent return rate on census surveys in 2010 — the Brooklyn Community Foundation has partnered with the borough president’s office to launch the Brooklyn Complete Count Committee and the #MakeBrooklynCount campaign. The organizations have already committed $100,000 to the effort that includes contributions to the New York Immigration Coalition, the Center for Law and Social Justice in support of its NYC Black Leadership Action Coalition and the New York State Census Equity Fund.
At stake for this one New York City borough is $50 billion in federal and state grants.
The Rochester-Monroe Complete Count Committee — comprised of representatives from all levels of local government, the business community, area non-profits, the faith community, educational institutions and media — first met in July. It plans to meet several times this year to develop an outreach plan and focus on populations that are traditionally undercounted, such as new Americans, the faith community, people with disabilities, seniors, African Americans and Latinos, according to the Voice of the Voiceless community organization.
Schenectady, to its credit, has already reached out to organizations in the community that can provide assistance in reaching vulnerable populations to ensure they’re counted.
Complicating efforts to obtain an accurate population count in 2020 was a failed attempt by the Trump Administration earlier this year to add a citizenship question to the census, which threatened to discourage minority populations and immigrants from participating.
While the question won’t be asked, the lingering effects of the attempt could hinder state and local efforts to reach those populations of undocumented immigrants and their families and friends who might be legalized citizens but who might also fear participating.
We can’t underscore the importance of an accurate census.
If we lose money and representation, then many people in our area will lose out on valuable assistance they need to survive, thrive and move forward in their lives.
The only way to approach this census is through an aggressive outreach program to count every resident similar to what’s already being done and planned in other parts of the state.