Rule changes jeopardize census funding

File/Tribune News ServiceCensus advocates want to make sure everyone participates in the 2020 census count, since federal funds and the state’s representation in Congress hinge on the turnout.

CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers discussed recent changes to the eligibility requirements for state census funding Tuesday night.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed $70 million for improving census accuracy, $40 million of which will be used by state agencies, with the remaining $30 million to be locally deployed.

In December, the Legislature passed a resolution to apply for $87,000 from the funding. At the time, the county was authorized to conduct an awareness campaign, Deputy Greene County Administrator Warren Hart said.

The eligibility requirements recently changed, Hart said.

“Counties are ineligible to do the work directly,” he said.

Approved nonprofits must apply through the county and the county will apply for the grant on their behalf, Hart said. If the funding is received, the county would then distribute the funds to the nonprofit.

“As of today, the list of nonprofits has not come out,” Hart said. The deadline for the application is March 2.

“They waited too long to roll this out and then changed the eligibility requirements,” Hart said.

Libraries are automatically pre-approved, Cairo Library Director Debra Kamecke said. She urged legislators to find a way to obtain funding.

“We need to get a message to them why it’s important for everybody to be counted,” Kamecke said.

In the last census, Cairo, Catskill and Hunter-Tannersville were considered “hard to count.”

“Only 68.5% of people sent back their questionnaires in Catskill,” Legislator William B. Lawrence, R-Cairo, said in December. State employees then had to go door to door for the remaining individuals.

In Cairo, 71.2% of residents responded to the questionnaire and in Hunter-Tannersville, 70.5% of residents responded.

A delay for the census in some areas is caused by the lack of internet coverage, Lawrence said.

“Thirty percent of houses in Catskill don’t have internet or dial-up, 20% in Cairo and 22% in Hunter,” Lawrence said.

Many residents who do not have internet visit their local libraries, Kamecke said, adding that census-time could put an extra strain on her staff to assist people with computers.

The funding was not designed for rural counties, Hart said, adding that there is a particular focus on communities with large immigrant populations.

“As we prepare to undertake our nation’s 24th census, New York is standing up to the federal government’s intimidation tactics and attempts to discourage immigrants and other communities from filling out the census questionnaire,” Cuomo said in January. “This census comes at a divisive and ugly time when the social fabric of our nation is being stressed and tested in ways I’ve never seen before. New York is the capital of diversity, and during these difficult times, our state’s voice is vital. And this census counts and calibrates the voice of New York, so we need to make sure it is heard loud and clear. This conference is a big part of our efforts to inform all New Yorkers about the census and engage hard-to-reach communities, helping to ensure every single New Yorker is counted and the Empire State is accurately represented at the federal level.”

Greene County’s preliminary application included radio, print, social media and digital advertisements, as well as wraparound ads for the county’s bus service.

Additionally, flyers and brochures would be distributed at senior centers, through the Meals on Wheels program and featured on the county’s website.

Eligible census outreach, grant-funded activities include distribution of literature, door-to-door conversations, informational sessions about the census and process, development of outreach materials and special events, according to www.ny.gov/2020-census.

The data gathered in the census corresponds to the quality of life in an area, according to a statement from the New York State Association of Counties.

“Census data is used for funding schools, roads, infrastructure, transit, Head Start, Medicaid, disaster relief and so much more,” according to the association.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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