Capitol Notes

COVID-19 causes latest delay in state’s census outreach

The state’s habitually tardy effort to invest in outreach activities promoting engagement with the census has fallen behind schedule again, this time as one of the many consequences of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The state was scheduled to announce the distribution of $15 million in state funds on March 10, but Empire State Development confirmed this week that none of the money has gone out the door. The blown deadline was already more than a month behind the timeline laid out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December.

Participation in the census this spring by New Yorkers is nearly 6 percentage points below the national response rate, putting the state 42nd in the country, according to federal data on Wednesday morning.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in order to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers, the federal government and New York State have suspended in person census outreach at this time,” a spokesperson for the department said in response to questions about the distribution of state resources.

“The State remains committed to ensuring a complete and accurate count and will be advancing media outreach targeted at our hard to count populations.  Every New Yorker counts and ESD hopes to safely restart the NYS 2020 Census Complete Count Outreach Grant funding as soon as possible.”

While New York is almost guaranteed to lose one of its congressional seats due to population shifts over the last decade, a second seat could also be in jeopardy if the state has a lackluster counting effort.  Billions of dollars in federal aid are also tied to the results  of the census.

New York has repeatedly had to adjust its timeline during this process, starting with the work of the state’s Complete Count Commission, which wasn’t formed until early 2019, nearly three weeks after a report was due from the commission.

The commission, which was tasked with preparing the state for the census, had a bumpy existence, with behind the scenes disagreements on how to proceed and what should be prioritized. A final report was produced in October 2019, about nine months late, and it was widely panned as a useless document, failing to do something as basic as identifying funding needs for outreach efforts, which was part of the commission’s initial mandate.

Throughout the process in 2019, advocates and grassroots organizations responsible for the outreach efforts stressed the importance of distributing funding for census preparation as soon as possible. One census expert said in April of last year that the state’s preparations should have been at “full steam” at that point.

A follow up report was due from the commission in January to analyze the implementation of the state’s census preparations, but nothing was produced.

Before the pandemic shutdown New York, SUNY Empire State College made computers available at five of its campuses for people to complete the census online.



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