(TNS) — Massachusetts census advocates are calling on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office to release more than $1 million from the state’s census fund that was supposed to go to municipalities and nonprofits to help them boost census participation.
In a letter sent Thursday, they called for Secretary William Galvin’s office to release more than $1.3 million that was allotted to the decennial count through a supplemental budget the governor signed into law in December. Census advocates estimate $986,055 should be distributed to community groups and $330,000 should be distributed to municipalities, arguing the funds were supposed to help with census outreach in historically hard-to-count communities, including low-income neighborhoods, immigrant enclaves and areas where residents write or speak little English.
“As you know, low response rates are most common in low-income communities, particularly in densely populated urban centers with many immigrant families and rural areas. An undercount in our cities and rural areas will compound inequalities across the Commonwealth for the next ten years,” the letter states.
Nine organizations signed onto the letter, including the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund, Massachusetts Voter Table and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. The Census Bureau announced last week it plans to end door-knocking efforts a month early, giving census workers and organizers until Sept. 30 to get households that didn’t respond to participate in the count. Advocates, lawmakers and state officials, including Galvin, say communities will receive less federal funding and less political representation than they need if their populations are severely undercounted.
MassLive has reached out to Galvin’s office for comment.
The letter comes as the U.S. Census Bureau starts door-knocking to households that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census in Boston, Lawrence and East Bridgewater.
Boston has a response rate of 53.5 percent, lower than the state response rate of 65.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Lawrence’s response rate is 49.7 percent and East Bridgewater’s is 77 percent, according to the agency’s website.
Of those three communities, only Lawrence received a municipal grant for the decennial count. Lawrence received $50,000 on April 30 after households started receiving the 2020 Census in the mail.
The Massachusetts Legislature approved $3.9 million for census efforts, including $1 million specifically for municipalities . About 5 percent of the $3.9 million could stay in Galvin’s office for related administrative costs, advocates say. The rest is supposed to go to the census effort.
As of late June, 22 municipalities received grants from the state for the count between mid-March and late June, according to documents obtained by Lawyers for Civil Rights through a public records request and provided to MassLive.
The state issued $670,000 in grants to those 22 municipalities, including $50,000 each to Worcester, Springfield and New Bedford each.
The Boston Globe first reported in mid-March the census funds disbursement was delayed, noting the state missed a February deadline to fund at least 50 percent of nonprofit grants. Galvin’s office told the Globe it sent about $658,000 in checks to nearly 30 nonprofits. Galvin said at the time he was timing the grants with the start of count, though some nonprofit leaders said they could have used the funds sooner.
Galvin’s office has issued at least $1.9 million to 69 community organizations, according to a list of Complete Count awarded grants provided to MassLive. (Another $10,000 was issued to two organizations in Pittsfield that did not accept the grants, according to the list.)
Malden, one of the cities that raised concerns about the funds, received a $25,000 census grant two days after the Globe story published. The next round of municipal grants were sent more than a month later.
In Thursday’s letter, census advocates say the median response rate in Massachusetts is 71.5 percent but a closer look at responses at the community level show much bigger gaps in participation. The median response rate for cities and towns with the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita was 47.8 percent as of July 8.
“Time is running short for effective outreach efforts,” the letter states. “Nonprofits, municipal finances, and staff capacity are stretched thin by the COVID crisis.”
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