Thursday, January 06, 2022

Pandemic may have skewed census recounts; towns that stand to lose funding can request recount starting this week

Some communities are complaining that they will lose state and federal funding because the pandemic skewed their decennial census counts. Nelsonville, Ohio, faced a host of issues: "Renters and older people who were hard to reach, college students who left town during the pandemic and widespread distrust of government questions," Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. "The initial results showed that Nelsonville’s population had dropped below 5,000, which under Ohio law would have made it a village instead of a city. The change in status might have cost it millions of matching state and federal dollars for water, sewer and road projects granted under a program exclusively for small cities. It also hurt Nelsonville’s pride."

Community leaders were approved for a recount, and in October "mounted a whirlwind 10-day volunteer effort, with hundreds of people gathering names at parks and churches and going door to door to find missing addresses. The revised tally was 5,373 residents, and Ohio certified the count, preserving Nelsonville’s city status," Henderson reports. "Many communities across the country argue that pandemic-related chaos made it impossible for census workers to get an accurate count of their populations. But unlike Nelsonville, which benefited from Ohio’s unusually flexible recount law, they are unlikely to get satisfaction from federal officials. As a result, they could miss out on state and federal aid tied to population."

Starting this week, communities that think they were undercounted can file a challenge with the U.S. Census Bureau, but the process only allows challenges on the grounds that people were mistakenly placed outside of city limits. Also, "In an acknowledgement of pandemic-related disruptions, the census bureau recently announced it would review its count of people living in institutions such as college dormitories, prisons and nursing homes," Henderson reports. "But cities and the organizations supporting them want the bureau to expand that review to include apartment buildings."

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