Higgins: Local response rates are down, accurate count critical to WNY receiving its fair share
Congressman Brian Higgins, City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino and Niagara Ministerial Council President the Rev. Craig Pridgen, senior pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church, are teaming up to share information about the census and stress how important it is for residents to be counted.
Every 10 years, the federal government conducts a census to count the number of people living in the U.S. The Census Bureau’s 2020 outreach began in March with residents receiving questionnaires by mail. The questionnaire consists of nine questions requesting basic information and can be completed online, over the phone or by mail. Responses are kept private and the data is used to determine equal representation and fair distribution of federal resources.
Higgins said, “Achieving an accurate census count is critical for our families and communities. It plays a role in determining health care, transportation, education, affordable housing and much more. Full participation today will determine the resources provided to our community for the next decade.”
According to the census “Hard to Count” map, as of May 17, just 65.4% of residents in Niagara County and 51.8% in the City of Niagara Falls have self-respond to the census, falling below recent response rates. In 2010, 69.3% of households in Niagara County filled out the census questionnaire, a decrease from 2000 when 75% self-responded.
Higgins’ camp said census numbers are vitally important to ensuring communities, schools and families receive the federal resources they need. In 2014, the City of Niagara Falls nearly lost its $2 million-plus annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding after its reported population numbers fell below the 50,000 population threshold for CDBG recipients. Higgins was able to protect the City of Niagara Falls from losing that funding for parks, infrastructure and neighborhood improvements, by winning approval of an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill.
Erie County’s self-response rate to the census is currently at 64.8%, below the 2010 response of 69.6% and the 2000 rate of 74% self-reporting. The cities of Buffalo and Lackawanna both have lower response rates and are at risk of being undercounted. Just 58.2% of Lackawanna residents and 47.3% of Buffalo residents have responded to the census thus far. Response rates in certain census tracts in Buffalo and Niagara falls are under 25%.
A report issued by the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy notes New York communities received over $73.3 billion in federal funding through 55 federal program that derive funding levels based on 2010 census numbers. The programs range from Federal Direct Student Loans to Highway Funding and Special Education Grants to Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) funding.
The current nationwide response rate is 59.5%. Due to COVID-19, the deadline to respond to the census has been extended until Oct. 31. Higgins’ camp said, “Responding quickly by mail, online or on the phone means census takers won’t have to come to your door to collect constitutionally required census data."