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GUEST COLUMN: Participation in census is critical for area

GUEST COLUMN: Participation in census is critical for area

Millions of dollars in local aid at stake
GUEST COLUMN: Participation in census is critical for area
Photographer: Shutterstock

In the spring of 2020, the constitutionally-mandated decennial census will be conducted to count the population of people living in the United States.

This crucial count includes all people regardless of citizenship status.

However, the census is much more than a population count. 

The data compiled from the census has important and far-reaching implications for local communities across the country.

Census data is used for redistricting purposes, redrawing boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts to account for population shifts.

The data also helps determine representation in government by accurately determining the number of congressional seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Most importantly, however, census data provides the basis for the distribution of over $800 billion in federal funding to state and local municipalities, which is used to support vital programs for housing, education, infrastructure and employment at the local level. 

For these reasons, it is crucial that the census is conducted fairly, and that a full, complete and accurate count is achieved. 

A complete count is particularly important for the Schenectady community, which historically has faced an undercount.

Data from the 2010 Census reveals that most of Schenectady is considered hard to count with a majority of census tracts in the area having a 73% or less return rate and low-income neighborhoods having the lowest response rates.

An undercount of this proportion has significant consequences on the amount of federal funding our community receives, which in turn has a substantial impact on funding for programs that help families experiencing poverty and homelessness.

At present, the city of Schenectady has a documented poverty of rate of 21%, and Schenectady County as a whole has a poverty rate of 12.5%.

Federally funded programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Home Energy Assistance Grants, the School Lunch and Breakfast Program, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant all play a critical role in combating poverty in our community. 

As the designated Community Action Agency for Schenectady County, Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP), assists thousands of low-income families and residents each year overcome barriers to housing, employment and education.

SCAP, like most community-based agencies that provide human services, relies on money distributed from the federal government to operate much needed programs.

These include but are not limited to, Supportive Housing Programs, which provide rent subsidies and supportive services; the Community Development Block Grant, which helps with eviction prevention and rapid rehousing; Head Start, which provides comprehensive early childhood services for children ages birth to 5.

These programs provide life-changing opportunities for low-income residents and deserve adequate funding. 

Community Action Agencies were established with the mission of improving local communities by helping the most vulnerable people, and ensuring all residents, regardless of age, are supported and have a voice in shaping their community.

All Community Action Agencies in the Capital Region will be actively involved in complete count committees to ensure the count of all persons in low response neighborhoods, public housing communities, shelters and transitional housing, colleges and universities, nursing homes, and people experiencing homelessness. 

For the first time, census participants will have the option to respond online, by phone or by mail.

It is important to note that census information is protected by federal law and the Census Bureau is required to keep all information confidential.

This means that the information provided as part of the census is never shared with immigration enforcement agencies or law enforcement agencies.

Participation in the census is the civic responsibility of every resident and provides opportunity for everyone to help support our local community.

There is much at stake and everyone should be counted, because everyone counts. 

Debra Schimpf is CEO of Schenectady Community Action Program.

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