Local Committee Kicks Off Push For 2020 Census
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local organizations are gearing up for a push to get everyone to fill out the Census.
The 2020 Census is on its way and a countywide complete count committee has been formed to assist in the efforts. The group is separate from the U.S. Census Bureau -- through the bureau is in contact with the group -- to connect with those living in the county and get the paperwork filled out.
The results of the Census will have a significant impact on not only government representation but dollars from federal and state programs that use the population figures to dole out funds.
"There is a lot of funding at the federal level where census data is part of the formula," said Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Planner Mark Maloy.
Maloy said there is some $690 billion distributed by the federal government where the Census data is a determining factor -- which breaks down to some $2,000 per person. In the Berkshires, the population is a factor in some $280 million in federal funding.
On the state level, programs like Chapter 90 for road repairs, Chapter 70 for schools, cultural grants, parks and library grants all have the population as a factor determining who gets what. Maloy said the state dished out some $5.3 billion in aid to cities and towns, much of that has population figures as a determining factor.
As for representation, the Berkshires lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representative when Massachusetts dropped from 10 to nine after the last Census. Maloy said it does not appear at this point that Massachusetts will lose another seat, but because the population has been growing in the east, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's district could be growing.
"My guess is that his seat is going to expand a bit because of population change," Maloy said.
In the State House, the Berkshires potentially could lose a seat in the House of Representative depending on how the numbers shake out. It appears that all of the representatives -- and the senator -- will have to take on more towns.
"Based on population across the state, we should only have three representatives for the county," Maloy said.
But none of those expectations really matter in the end because it is what happens in the 2020 count that ultimately determines and sets the base for the next decade.
"This is the one that grounds everything. This what they base all of the other surveys on," Maloy said. "This is the only 100 percent, complete count."
So where are you living most of the time as of April 1, 2020? That's the count the Census is looking to track. It isn't a count of citizens or homeowners. It is a count of every person living in the United States of America.
But not everybody wants to give the government information -- especially if it is from an out of town organization. The complete count committee is going to provide that familiar face and roll out a campaign to get the Berkshire County votes out. The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams are also both gearing up their own complete count committee to do the same within their borders.
"One of the guiding premises is to use trusted voices to encourage everyone's participation," Maloy said.
The group will particularly be targeting the groups of people who are notoriously difficult to get to fill out the Census. The Berkshires, for instance, has trouble with the "snowbird population." Those people tend to move south for the winter and get the Census forms in March there. But they spend most of their time in the Berkshires and should be counted as part of this population instead.
"It is important for us to educate seniors to fill it out for Berkshire County," Maloy said.
The Berkshires face a challenge with online submittals and hilltowns. This year will be the first time the Census will be online and many areas don't have internet access. The committee will be looking at such things as making sure there is a local access point for it to be done.
The Census forms sent in March won't go to post office boxes and many Berkshire towns have a lot of people relying on those. The committee will have to get the forms into the hands of those residents.
"The reason for that is because it is not a physical location," Maloy said.
Maybe the most daunting task, there could be a question of citizenship. Legally the answers to the Census cannot be shared with any other agency -- and Census workers are required to keep secrecy for life and the information isn't released until 70 years after -- but that doesn't mean the immigrant community is going to trust it.
Maloy said a question of citizenship on the Census has been challenged in court and at this point appears to have been thrown out. But he expects appeals so the question could ultimately be there.
"I don't know what is going to happen with that one but I know a lot of the immigrants are concerned about it. This is not a count of citizens in the US, it is a count of everybody who lives in the United States," he said.
That mistrust in the government won't be segregated to just the immigrant population but a common theme among a lot of people. Maloy said one of the most difficult groups to count are young children because parents are protective about giving that information out.
There will be language barriers and the Berkshires is at a disadvantage because the nearest Census office will be in Worcester.
Maloy said other tough-to-count populations include renters, female heads of household, young children, households with incomes less than $35,000 a year, people without a high school degree, the non-white populations, people in rural areas, the young and mobile group, and the snowbirds.
"These are populations that historically do not respond to the census," Maloy said. "It is a diverse group of people we need to convince to answer the census questions."
The kickoff meeting on Thursday drew representatives from a number of county groups working with various populations. BRPC will be the lead liaison for the countywide group and those gathered brainstormed other groups that could be involved in helping the effort. The group crafted subcommittees.
The outreach efforts will begin in the fall and last through the winter. In March, the paperwork will be mailed to homes. And after five notices, those who haven't responded will be on the list for an enumerator to knock on the door. In the end, the hope is to have as close to a complete count of every person in the country but it is a daunting task.
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