The COVID crisis hit New York at precisely the same time that the U.S. Census Bureau was planning an advertising and public relations blitz about the importance of the census, and how people could self-respond. The government’s campaign was to go hand-in-glove with a statewide push to inform people about the census by groups like the Chambers of Commerce, local elected officials and community organization.

But COVID shut everything down, and very little of this outreach took place.

“All the in-person outreach and all the mass gatherings, all of a sudden couldn’t happen,” Steven Romalewski, Director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center told Spectrum News. “So, the idea of having an extended time frame for self-response was great.”

Romalewski is referring to the Trump administration’s original extension of the Census through October. Over the summer, the Census Bureau rolled the extension back by one month. 

Late last night, federal district court Judge Lucy Koh issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Census Bureau to continue the census count until October 31. Her ruling also extends the statutory deadline for congressional reapportionment past the current December 31, 2020 deadline.

But according to Romalewski, while upstate re-opened much earlier than New York City, upstate’s self-response rate has been “a mixed bag”.

“In most of the Adirondacks and some other areas in western New York, the Census Bureau did not send out mailings.  Instead, the Bureau relied on a technique called “Update/Leave”. A census person would visit a home, leave a packet with a census questionnaire and then leave,” said Romalewski.

The reason for this strategy? The Census Bureau didn’t want to rely on the mail to get to these very rural households. 

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau suspended this program due to COVID.

“So for a couple of months, large swaths of NY had no communication from the Census bureau,” Romalewski said. 

“Update-Leave” started back up again in May and June. 

“If you look at data from Hamilton, Herkimer or Essex counties, the Census has response rates of less than 50 percent in some cases,” Romalewski.  “Because of the COVID crisis, it was hard to get to these householders.”

Host Susan Arbetter spoke with Romalewski on Capital Tonight.