Our Opinion: A successful census is critical to Berkshires

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The U.S. Census count is of critical importance, particularly for a region like Berkshire County confronting a decline in population. The census process has become politicized, which makes it even more important that census officials and Berkshire residents work together to achieve the most accurate count possible.

April 1, 2020 has been designated by the federal government as the official census day, and Georgia Lowe, representing the the U.S. Census Bureau's regional office in New York City, was at Pittsfield City Hall Monday along with a number of local and state officials to make the case for the significance of the count (Eagle, April 9). "Shape your future" is the official slogan for the 2020 census, and that is exactly what the census will do in the Berkshires over the next 10 years.

The most dramatic impact of the 2010 sense was the loss of a congressional seat in Massachusetts because of the state's decline in population relative to states in the South and Southwest. That led to a redistricting which in essence expanded the 1st Congressional District encompassing the Berkshires eastward, diluting the Berkshires' percentage of the district's population, and its influence. State Representative Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Redistricting, believes an accurate count will prevent that from happening in 2020, but the impact of the census goes beyond representation in the U.S. House.

Berkshire County receives about $280 million in federal funding, largely through the Community Development Block Grant, which is linked to population. This money is used for programs like infrastructure planning and construction and medical assistance, and it could decline along with the population. State officials also use the federal census to determine funding for schools, highway funding and other vital programs.

The census is supposed to be apolitical, but it has been corrupted by politics in the Trump era. The president, through his Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, has been trying to add a citizenship question to the census even though the historic goal of the census, as outlined in the Constitution, is "...to account for every man, woman and child regardless of their status as citizens." Two federal courts have thus far blocked this attempt to undermine the census. The growing immigrant population is critical to stemming the population loss in the Berkshires, and if they are not included in the census the county could suffer for it economically. While Ms. Lowe pointed out Monday that the Census Bureau is not allowed to share any personal information with anyone, including other federal agencies, her assurance may not convince even properly documented immigrants to be counted for fear that their participation might grievously impact friends and relatives who are still undocumented.

The federal government has also reduced funding for the Census process, and as a result, Berkshire County will not have a census office as it has in the past. The closest census office will be in Worcester, in the east-central section of the state. Mark Maloy of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commssion, who is the facilitator of the county's Complete Count Committee, warned that hiring and training canvassers for Berkshire communities is "going to be a challenge" because of the loss of a Berkshire office.

The appropriate officials can be counted on to work to overcome these needless obstacles to the count, but they can't succeed without the cooperation of Berkshire residents. They must be informed about the process and assure that they and all family members are included in the count. The shape of the Berkshires' future is indeed at stake.

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