One of the potentially devastating financial effects of COVID-19 for the City’s finances could end up being the low rate of response for the U.S. Census 2020 in Everett – a number that defines federal funding and eligibility for certain programs over the next 10 years.
So far, City Clerk Sergio Cornelio said the response has really dropped off since COVID-19 hit, which was right in the midst of the big push for Census mailings and responses online or on paper. With most peoples’ attention being focused on the virus, the Census sort of got forgotten – despite an early and large push by Cornelio and the City last year and early this year.
“The City of Everett is at 45 percent of residents filling out the Census right now,” he said. “That puts us at 54th out of 57 cities and towns in the state in our rate of response. We are in the bottom three right now. The numbers are low and maybe that’s due to the COVID illnesses. We were hit hard with it, and Chelsea is the worst in the state on its Census returns and they’ve also been hit really hard.”
The U.S. Census is a key factor in determining the actual population of a City or Town and is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to be conducted every 10 years on April 1. The full count applies to everyone present in a place at that time and there is no restriction on citizenship or documentation. It is simply a complete count.
The implications of counting everyone, though, are very high as funding formulas and programs from the state and federal government are calculated on that complete count for 10 years. If not everyone is counted, that means a community loses out repeatedly on its proper funding and program opportunities.
Already, the City has gotten some help from the Federal Census Bureau, which extended the traditional July 1 ending of the Census to Oct. 31 to give everyone time beyond the COVID-19 lockdowns to complete a count. A hallmark of the Census is getting phone calls and visits to a home if one doesn’t fill out the online or paper questionnaire. That cannot be done in these times, so Cornelio said they have gotten a break in the extension. Still, they are working hard to try to boost numbers and get the word out to take time to fill out the Census.
“We’re still working really hard but it’s different,” he said. “We’re not going door-to-door. The Census Bureau cannot be sending enumerators door-to-door until at least late June 1 and I suspect in Massachusetts it would be even later because of the COVID-19 lasting effects. They probably won’t be sending out enumerators here until late summer.”
In the last Census, Everett was undercounted by about 35 percent, and came in at 42,000 people. That is just lower than the critical 50,000 person mark which unlocks lots more funding. Cornelio said they hope to get above 50,000 this time, but believe the City is likely between 55,000 and 60,000 people in actuality.
“Last time, Massachusetts lost a Congressman due to the low counts,” he said. “If affects our health care, our school sand our roads and bridges and sidewalks. If we can hit 50,000, we will be an entitlement city. That would bring in an extra $1.6 million per year to the City. If we can hit 55,000 to 60,000 – what we believe is our true number – that would mean another $3 million to $4 million. Our City would see millions of dollars more…We need to educate our residents on that. Some people may or may not know that. We just have a lot more people here than the 42,000 number we got in 2010.”
Right now, the local Complete Count Committee led by Cornelio are working fast to try to get that word out in any way possible – whether online or by word-of-mouth at the food pantries and delivery sites.
It is the first time in history the Census has been available online, and that is a great stroke of luck as it makes it easier to fill out without having to be in contact with anyone or to open any paper mail. The Census has also gone to great lengths, as has the City, to stress that information is private and cannot be accessed by the federal government for purposes of immigration violations or deportations. All residents, documented or undocumented, are urged of the safety of the Census and to fill it out with the correct information. None of it, Cornelio said, can be accessed or used against anyone.
“We’re giving this a big push,” said Cornelio. “We want to bring everyone together and understand it’s not just any one group. It affects everyone equally – good or bad. We need to make sure we get the aid we deserve because we know our community is larger than 50,000 residents. We just have to fill out the Census in larger numbers to make sure that we’re counted accurately.”