Census efforts get creative


By Patsy Nicosia

Concerns over COVID-19 have pushed the 2020 Census onto the back burner, but that doesn’t make filling out the form any less critical.
Census numbers are used for everything from determining where $675 billion in federal funds goes to helping communities plan for emergency preparedness to calculating their representation in Congress.
Most households received invitations to respond to the Census—either by mail or online in March.
But for those who haven’t done it yet, on-the-ground door-to-door visits delayed by COVID are now underway.
In Schoharie County, as of mid-May, 42 percent of residents had filled out their Census; that compares to 59 percent nationwide and 54 percent across the state.
In an effort to boost those numbers, County Planner Shane Nickle has invited local municipalities to call into a June 10 teleconference to brainstorm ideas for getting the word out.
So far, he said, he has eight takers; the Village of Sharon Springs is one of them; and Trustee Patty Johnstone will be at the tele-meeting on the 10th.
“As we know, good Census reporting is important,” said Deputy Mayor Denise Kelly.
“We’ll do whatever we can to talk it up.”
The Towns of Gilboa and Blenheim are already doing their own outreach and Gilboa Supervisor Alicia Terry echoed Ms. Kelly’s words.
“For the Town of Gilboa, this means a great deal,” Ms. Terry said.
“We need the response to ensure that we have the correct number of weighted votes at the county level…Additionally, federal and state programs we’ve been able to take advantage of rely on Census data.”
Among them: Gilboa’s mobile home replacement program and the state’s Aid to Municipalities program.
With that in mind, Ms. Terry said she keeps mentioning the importance of the Census at town meetings, there’s a message on the sign in front of the Town Hall, and she and Town Clerk Linda Wyckoff are both spreading the word on their own Facebook accounts.
In Blenheim, Supervisor Don Airey talks to everyone he can about the importance of filling out the Census, pointing out that it only takes a few minutes and can pay big dividends.
“It’s a unique opportunity for small communities to be counted and recognized,” he said.
“Return rates also speak to engagement by the public and those same return rates can be used to promote projects and grants.”
Getting the word out with public meetings on hold has been especially hard, Mr. Airey said.
“I don’t ever think we’ve done this much to get the word out about the Census,” Mr. Nickle said, with agencies like the Office for the Aging and SCCAP talking it up over the phone or with home-delivered meals during New York on Pause.
Plans to have local libraries help, though, fizzled when COVID closed their doors.
And even before that, Schoharie County’s Census response rate has historically been low--something blamed in part on poor internet.
The Town of Seward continues to post the best returns—59.8 percent—with the Town of Wright just behind at 58.6 percent.
Others with a higher than 50 percent return rate: Town of Cobleskill (54 percent) Carlisle (51 percent), and Village of Cobleskill (53 percent).
People are encouraged to use the ID number included in the questionnaire packet they receive, but they can also go online to 2020Census.gov and respond by phone, (844) 330-2020.
Mr. Nickle has also offered to help anyone through the process--so far, he’s just had two takers—at (518) 295-8770.