Jeff Behler

Northeast Region Census Director Jeff Behler.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau has extended the 2020 count deadline from the end of July to Oct. 31.

Extra time means more advocacy on the importance of Census counts, according to Jeff Behler. He oversees Census operations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

For Behler, importance boils down to two key factors, especially for rural communities like those in Seneca County. 

"Representation and funding," he explained. "There'll be a redistricting of congressional seats that will be done. So it's ensuring that New York State has its fair share of representation when fighting for things on Capitol Hill. States will use this data for their redistricting purposes for drawing their voting precincts, their school districts, businesses will use this data to determine where they want to expand, they want to go to places where they're going to have a customer base, they're going to want to go to places where they're able to hire employees."

When it comes to funding, Behler said this count will be particularly important.

"Hundreds of billions of dollars are disseminated every year, based upon formulas that use census data," he said. Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC programs, and so many others are accounted for using Census data. Education falls into the same basket. Whether it is funding for Head Start, Pell grants, or other vital dollars in the education space, the Census is crucial.

For weeks, the Board of Supervisors has been pushing residents to be counted. They have noted the importance of funding programs like Medicaid and Medicare, which represent major spending areas for the County's annual budget. A strong count could mean less expense on the County in the long-term. 

As of late 2019, Seneca County was making weekly payments of approximately $111,000 to Albany for its share of Medicaid and Medicare. 

For pandemic response, Behler added that Census data is also important so hospitals can be fairly compensated. "The census data is crucial because funding for hospitals or ensuring there's enough personnel for ensuring there's enough supplies, you think about the decisions that are going to have to be made in the future, whether that's the number of vaccines a community may need, or the number of hospital beds or whatever," Behler said. "We get one opportunity every 10 years. We're not taking a sample. We're not projecting. We're not taking an estimate or creating an estimate. We're actually reaching out to every household so it's important that everyone fill out their 2020 Census to ensure their entire families are counted."

Obviously, overseeing several statewide operations comes with a unique set of challenges. That is why Behler said he has remained focused on “making it local.” If that count is not made local, the consequences can be dire for community organizations, families, and schools. 

"And let's just say as an example, that school has 100 kids, let's say in 2020, only 80 those kids get counted. For the next 10 years that school is only going to receive 80 percent of the funding it deserves, and it still has to fill the needs of all 100 percent of the children," he added. "That doesn't just affect the 20 that weren't counted – it affects all 100." 

Behler said that is why looking locally is important. 

"So just take that example and apply it to your neighborhood, your community, whatever is important to you, whether it's care for the elderly, whether it's health care, making sure you have enough hospitals or hospital beds or supplies, whether it's looking at a college fund Pell Grants, community development block grants, etc.," he said. "Whether you want to improve your roads, bridges, or tunnels or mass transportation system, if we don't get a complete and accurate count, we stand our communities, our neighborhoods will lose for the next 10 years."

For communities like Seneca County it is a risk that is too great to risk. 

In an update last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that New York lagged in response rate compared to other states across the U.S. However, precise data was not available for how individual counties are performing.

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