Letter: Why Fall River needs to get the 2020 Census count right.
By Cheryl Clyburn Crawford
As of April 2, Fall River is on pace to be undercounted.
That’s how much federal aid Fall River receives as a result of the Census, according to MassCounts, a coalition of advocacy organizations. Approximately $18.5 million – half of the total – goes to community health centers, which are more in need of that aid than ever. Dozens of cases of coronavirus have recently been confirmed in Fall River (not to mention the surrounding communities), and cases are expected to peak in the coming weeks. When they do, community health centers will need every cent that they can get in order to continue to treat all who walk through their doors.
However, Fall River – like the rest of Massachusetts – is at risk of missing out on this much-needed federal funding if it is undercounted in the 2020 Census.
As of April 2, Fall River is on pace to be undercounted. Approximately 41.3% of people across the U.S. have responded to the census, and Massachusetts, fortunately, is currently ahead of that with a 42.9% response rate. However, Fall River is lagging, with only 36.4% of individuals having responded thus far.
While a few percentage points may not seem that important on the surface, this directly leads to large losses of funding for specific parts of the city. The neighborhoods around Britland Park and Ruggles Park, for example, have only a 26.8% self-response rate. Similarly, communities around Kennedy Park have only a 27.8% self-response rate. The neighborhoods around Flint Village likewise have lower than average response rates.
While it is true that these are only self-response rates, and these areas arguably will be counted when a census taker knocks on their door, about 70% of Fall River’s population lives in what are deemed “hard to count” areas. Within these areas it is very difficult to complete the census count, limiting its overall accuracy and impact.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case. For example, in certain parts of the city, people almost exclusively rent, as opposed to own, their primary residence. Renters move far more frequently than homeowners, and as a result are more difficult to count. Additionally, portions of the city have a high immigrant population. Immigrants are considered hard to count because typically they can be wary of sharing information with the government, or because English is not their primary language.
While all Fall River residents suffer if the city misses out on federal funds, specific communities are at risk to suffer more than others. Beyond community health centers, an accurate census count ensures funding for programs like Medicare Part B, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Section 8 Housing Vouchers, and the National School Lunch Program. All of these programs are sorely needed now, as they ensure that eligible individuals continue to receive healthcare, housing, and food assistance. With the coronavirus outbreak causing immense anxiety and uncertainty, these programs must be protected at all costs.
Getting the 2020 Census count right is one way that we can do this. Over the past few years, MassVOTE, alongside our MassCounts coalition partners, have fought to ensure that we maximize the 2020 Census count. While we previously focused on in-person advocacy and organizing, we have obviously had to adjust our strategy. We are meeting with state legislative offices virtually, encouraging them to lend their voice to the conversation. We are collaborating with fellow advocacy organizations and community leaders to help us spread the word on census at the grassroots level. Finally, we are utilizing digital tools to maximize attention on the census, ranging from social media outlets like Twitter to local media outlets like the Herald.
If you haven’t completed your census yet, you can do so online at my2020census.gov, by phone at (844) 330-2020, or by mail. If you have, tell your family and friends to do so, too.
Together we can and must get the 2020 Census count right in Fall River and beyond. We hope you will join us in this effort.
Cheryl Clyburn Crawford is executive director of MassVOTE, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization dedicated to voting rights, voter education, and social justice.
The Herald News verifies and reviews all letters to the editor we receive. The letters represent the views of the letter writers, not those of The Herald News.