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As census deadline looms, federal funding and representation at stake

As census deadline looms, federal funding and representation at stake

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Even though the census deadline has been pushed back to its original date of Oct. 31, officials say residents who haven't completed their forms should do it now.

The Oct. 31 deadline to be counted in Census 2020 is right around the corner and local officials continue to make efforts – some of them ill-timed – to increase participation and help boost the area's federal funding and representation.

Erie County’s response rate so far is 70.6%, which is above the national rate of 66.8% and the state’s rate of 63.9%, according to the Census 2020 website.

But the rate in Buffalo is 54.3%, well below the 67% figure from a decade ago.

For months, local officials have been reaching out, imploring people to complete the census and telling them why it’s important.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz could not be reached, but his press secretary, Peter Anderson, said in an email Monday that “millions of dollars of federal funding for infrastructure, healthcare, and education are at stake and could be lost if a full, accurate count is not completed. The census also determines congressional representation, so a full count is imperative in order that Erie County and WNY are accurately represented in Washington.”

The county executive’s office has been working with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Census Bureau – despite the Covid-19 pandemic – to get the word out and boost response, Anderson said, and will continue to reach out to people through social media and advertising, as long as funding allows.

Erie County also made automated calls over the weekend reminding people to complete the census. However, two dozen people commented on the Lancaster/Depew Neighbors Helping Neighbors Facebook page that they had received robocalls, and many of them were upset that the calls came in the early morning, from 1 to 3 a.m. And at least two people who received the recording said they had already filled out the census.

Anderson said the calling program apparently had a glitch that resulted in calls going out later than they should have and that their office is looking into it.

In Buffalo, census enumerators continue to go door to door, said Jessica Lazarin, co-chairperson of the Buffalo Count Us In 2020 Committee and director of the city’s Office of New Americans, in an email.

And the Mayor’s Fire House drive-up days during fire prevention month in October will have staff available with tablets and hot spots to help individuals complete their census questionnaires online.

The last two drive-up days are from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Engine 23, 3226 Bailey Ave., and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday  at Engine 36/Ladder 13, 860 Hertel Ave.

“A complete and accurate census count is important to the future of the City of Buffalo, Erie County and New York State,” Mayor W. Brown said in a text Monday. “As Mayor, I will continue to work with various partners every day until October 31 to get more Buffalo residents to complete the census.”

Census 2020 responses help decide the annual allocation of federal funding that flows into Buffalo to support vital programs and services, Lazarin said. For example, an accurate census is crucial for Buffalo Public Schools to get the needed funding to serve every student. BPS receives an average of $100 million in federal funding each year.

Federal funding also supports first responders and public safety programs. In just the last year and a half, Buffalo has been awarded almost $12 million in federal funding for its fire department. That means more personnel, more equipment and more training to help keep Buffalo safe, Lazarin said.

And Community Development Block Grant funds allocated based on census results finance many of the community centers and other anti-poverty programs that operate throughout Buffalo, she said.

The Brown administration’s recent outreach efforts include:

• Using a $150,000 state grant to support census outreach, allocating more than $25,000 of it to support the efforts of the International Institute of Buffalo and the Belle Community Center to target non-English speaking populations in Buffalo. The city also provided the Buffalo chapter of the Urban League approximately $15,000 to target historically undercounted Black communities in Buffalo. And $75,000 from the grant was used in combination with $200,000 from Erie County’s state census grant to launch an outreach campaign in September and October. The campaign included:

- 30-second radio ads on WUFO and WBLK

- Print and digital billboards in targeted neighborhoods

- 10-second streaming digital ads

- Robocalls by Buffalo Bills players to all Buffalo Public Schools families

- Ads in the Criterion, Challenger, La Ultima Hora and Panorama Hispano newspapers

- Distribution of over 3,000 lawn signs

• Spending $10,000 on census themed Covid-19 face masks for distribution at community outreach events

• A recorded message from Brown asking residents to complete the 2020 Census questionnaire. The message, which was posted on the city’s website and aired on Spectrum TV, was translated into Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Chin, Karen, Nepali, Rohingya, Somali, Swahili, Tigrinya and Spanish.

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