Experts weigh in on how U.S. census could help prepare for future crisis like coronavirus

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Put aside the pranks on April first, it’s also a serious day to consider the US census.

“It is no joke. Honestly, because we only do the census once every 10 years, it makes it that much more important. If you’re not counted in the census, it’s not a one-year mistake it’s a 10 year mistake,” explains Assistant Census Bureau Communications Director Steven Buckner.

Wednesday is Census Day, and both the national bureau and local governments have spent 10 years trying to find ways to get people involved.

“The Census Bureau has done a lot to change how you can actually participate in the census. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible,” Buckner explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

This is the first year the U.S. Census Bureau launched its online platform. Although this is convenient for those who are sheltered at home during the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic also canceled a flood of events cities have been working on.

“For many of our residents, they need to access a computer at the library, and our libraries are closed. We had planned on doing events at churches, where we would have a laptop set up so that people could fill out the census after church. We were also really looking at being at various school events with laptops, making sure that people were filling out the census. So right now, these are all things that we cannot do,” explains Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

However, Mayor Sheehan says they’ve been looking at creative ways of getting the word out.

“I’ve been watching the 10 push-up challenge spread its way across Facebook, where people are tagging friends and tagging them to do 10 push-ups. So I said let’s tag people to get them and 10 other people to fill out the census,” she says.

She also adds the City of Albany has worked on making residents in underreporting neighborhoods more comfortable with the census process.

“I think there was a lot of misunderstanding about the census. People were fearful that the information could be used by the IRS or by immigration, and none of that is true,” Sheehan explains. “The census data is protected. It cannot be used. It’s a federal offense to use that information other than just simply count people. We want people to know that it’s safe, and I think that we’ve made a lot of progress in getting the word out that it’s safe.”

Census data is crucial on deciding where money goes, who needs it, and representation.

“South Troy Roadway is a great example. That’s federal money, allocated to the states and then allocated to us based in part on census data,” explains Troy Mayor Patrick Madden in a PSA.

Buckner also says this could change the way we respond to a future crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic.

“Census data is heavily used by emergency planners, both preparedness as well as recovery. In particular, right now hospital and healthcare clinics really at the top of mind right now,” he says.

Since the COVID-19 crisis has canceled events and pushed back in person canvassing until August, they’re also working on phone and mail options to meet the deadline.

“We do have a deadline to get and deliver the apportionment count of the state population totals to both Congress and the president by December 31. We are laser focused on that, that’s exactly what we’re going to do, but we do need the public’s help on that,” says Buckner.

Click here to fill out the online census form.

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