|With Less Than A Year To Go, Officials Kickoff Census 2020 Push|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
05:53PM / Thursday, April 11, 2019
|State Rep. Paul Mark chairs the committee on redistricting and emphasized the importance of the Census data to the Berkshires.|
Mark Maloy is heading the complete count committee's efforts to reach the difficult to count populations throughout Berkshire County.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local officials are calling for all hands to be on deck when the Census begins in 2020.
State Rep. Paul Mark was joined by other local officials and representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau for a kickoff event Monday calling for community assistance in trying to get the most accurate count of people living here.
"We need trusted voices in every community, sharing the message that the Census is safe, easy, and important," said Georgia Lowe from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The process was written into the Constitution and calls for an account of every person living in the country. That sets the basis for seats in Congress as well as billions of dollars in grant funding.
"More than $675 billion annually from the federal government gets distributed based on Census data," Lowe said.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer highlighted the Community Development Block Grant as one of those programs. The city is allocated money every year from the federal program depending on the population.
"The tagline for the Census 2020 is 'shape your future' and that cannot be underestimated in terms of what it means to local communities," Tyer said. "For example, in the city of Pittsfield, our community block grant funding is tied to our population."
Mark chairs the redistricting committee and said, as of now, Massachusetts' population is estimated at 6,902,149. That is enough so that the state does not lose a congressional seat, provided the actual count hits that number.
"We should not be in danger of losing a congressman like we did 10 years ago. Out here in Western Massachusetts that was especially difficult because it was our congressional seat, John Olver, that was eliminated," Mark said.
While the state has grown at a 5 percent clip since the last Census, Mark said much of that is attributed to the eastern part of the state. He said communities in Western Massachusetts have either declined or were stagnant with population numbers.
"The bad news is the members of the Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, Western Massachusetts, is that our population is not increasing as fast as the rest of the state. We're facing either slow decline, a small decline, stagnation," Mark said.
The district for a representative is now going to be 43,000 people, which is 3,000 more than last time. For a state senator, the number is 72,500, which is 12,000 more than last time. And for a member of Congress, the district will be 766,905 people.
To pick up those numbers, all of the Western Massachusetts' legislative districts are expected to grow.
"Those districts are most likely going to get bigger and that affects our voice, that affects our representation in Washington," Mark said.
A focus is going to be given to the traditionally hard-to-count populations. Mark Maloy from Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is heading a complete count committee
to do just that throughout the county. Similar complete count committees will be formed in North Adams and Pittsfield to focus exclusively on those cities.
The committee consists of a wide range of individuals from the community and a wide range of experience and disciplines. Maloy said a few challenges facing the Berkshires are that the Census will be online and in some rural areas there is no reliable internet, and that the Census won't be mailed to postal boxes. That there could be a question of citizenship that would scare immigrants away from filing it out and that the closest office will be in Worcester.
Tyer added that the city will consider providing computers in the city clerk's office, at the library, and at the senior center for people to use to fill it out.
The Census starts with mailing to every home. Households can go online to fill it out, call by phone, or mail a paper copy. After those efforts, local enumerators will be sent to the field to knock on every door that hasn't responded in hopes to get a count.
"We have jobs. Although the Census is a national event, in order to be successful, it must be conducted at the local level with local workers who understand and represent this community," Lowe said.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier says the Census is a time when everybody counts.
Lowe said people can apply to become field workers at $18 an hour in the Berkshires. The second thing she is asking for are "ambassadors" to spread the word locally about the importance of the Census.
"A successful Census is easy to define: counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place," Lowe said. "We get one chance every 10 years to get it right. I'm confident that in working together we can achieve the most complete and accurate count."
Lowe emphasized safeguards put in place for the data for those who may be fearful to provide the information. She said field workers have to take a lifelong oath to not reveal any of the data, that laws protect the data from being distributed to anybody or agency including law enforcement, and that the bureau is working with other intelligence agencies and the private sector to secure the data from being hacked.
"The Census Bureau is taking this with the utmost seriousness and the last thing we would want would be for our systems to be hacked," Lowe said.
Mark said many officials believe this Census will be more difficult than in years past. He added that its outcome will be in place for a decade. State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said the Census is a time when "everybody counts." She said every person — including infants, children, and teenagers — is important and must be counted.
"This is a time for you to raise your hand and say I'm here," Farley-Bouvier said.
Mark chairs the House Committee on Redistricting and state Sen. Adam Hinds, who joined local officials on Monday but did not speak, is the vice chairman on the Senate's side. Mark said once those numbers are in, the state will be asked to redraw the districts and Mark pledged to do it fairly, honestly, and openly.