Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and several community partners are increasing their push to get more replies to the 2020 US Census. They warn that not completing a questionnaire puts the region at risk of losing hundreds of millions of federal dollars that the area cannot afford to miss.
Questionnaires will be accepted until September 30. For Mayor Brown, there's a concern of history repeating itself.
"Buffalo's Census questionnaire completion rate is still far too low. Our completion rate in Buffalo now is 52.7 percent," he said. "And that could pose a serious problem for the city over the course of the next decade. We know that because of Buffalo being undercounted during the last census. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid that Buffalo was entitled to was sent to other communities."
The population count collected through the US Census is used to calculate allocations of federal aid over the next ten years for programs ranging from human services to infrastructure repair. About a third of the population in Buffalo did not respond to the 2010 US Census.
County Executive Poloncarz stated the City of Lackawanna, his native municipality, wasn't faring much better than Buffalo with a response rate around 56 percent. Several other municipalities throughout the county, he reported, had rates ranging from 55 to 65 percent. They include Evans, Brant, Newstead, Wales, Colden, Holland, Concord and Sardinia.
"It also matters with regards to our representation in Congress," Poloncarz said. "We know that New York State, in all likelihood, is going to lose a congressional district. We believe Erie County has grown in the last 10 years, but we can only prove it if we have statistical numbers from the Census that shows that we have grown. And if we have grown, we should not lose a congressional representative, while other parts of New York State have certainly decreased and probably would."
The Buffalo Urban League, one of the community agencies represented in the Mayor's office Wednesday, is rolling out its own grassroots campaign to elevate response rates.
"We have already begun deploying resources," said its president and chief executive officer Thomas Beauford. "We are sending out youth. We're asking our seniors to make phone calls. We're going door to door. We have boots on the ground to support this very important initiative. As you know, our services in this community are highly dependent on being counted. So we need not only Buffalo to be heard, we need Buffalo to be counted. We will be in different communities, specifically on the East and West Side, where the completion rates are hovering around 50 percent."
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System, meanwhile, is kickstarting a Census campaign that was halted during the COVID pandemic.
"We are adding hours beginning this Saturday, September 12," said Mary Jean Jakubowski, director of the library system. "We expect you to join us in our libraries, where you will find safe and free high-speed internet access and staff, poised and ready to help you to complete your 2020 Census."
Mayor Brown pointed out that non-citizens need also respond, but should not worry about repercussions.
"We are a community that has a high number of immigrants, of refugees, potentially non-citizens. The Census count, by federal law, is only for the purpose of counting the population," he said. "It cannot be shared with any other federal, state or local agency. It is only for purposes of getting a complete and accurate count of the population. So no member of our community needs to be concerned or fearful that the information that they provide to the census will be shared with any other federal agency."
Lucy Candelario, executive director of the Belle Center in Buffalo, backed that up, sharing the message both in English and in Spanish. Following her was Khan Sian Sang of the International Institute of Buffalo, a native of Burma who also shared the message to participate in two languages, English and Burmese.
"We are closely working with all the language services and with our language department to make sure everyone is counted," he said. "Not only focusing on our clients, (but) also different areas that need to be reached."