EDITORIAL: Down for the count?

ATTENTION COLUMBIA COUNTY residents. The inhabitants of downstate New York, affectionately known here as “city people,” would like to thank you for the money and the political power you are about to give them.

By the end of next month you either will, or will not, have participated in this act of unintentional generosity. Those county residents who participate will tell us they were too busy, too misinformed or too frightened to stop this pending giveaway. But you can be sure they will complain about it after it happens, unaware that they played a role in surrendering what was rightfully ours.

Some of us who live here believe that federal funding and representation in Congress should be distributed in ways that give us our fair share. So what’s it say that fewer than half the households in the county contacted by the 2020 U.S. Census have filled out the census form online, by the mail or on the phone. One thing it says is that more than half of county households have yet to be counted, and that could hurt us all.

The Constitution says that every 10 years the government must count everyone living in the United States. The result determines how many members of the House of Representatives each state will have. The census results also help determine how much federal aid is allocated around the nation. The aid total was $689 billion as of 2015.

Is this a good way to cut the federal budget? No. The money will go somewhere, but less of it will come here if the census is inaccurate.

We’re talking money for roads, bridges, school nutrition, Medicare programs, Pell grants for college students, special education and foster care. The list goes on. We leave some of our share on the table for each uncounted household.

The Census Bureau website has an interactive map of census response rates nationwide. Columbia County has a rate of 49.8% of people responding. By contrast, Nassau County on long Island has a rate of 69.4%. Sure, Nassau County has a much larger population than Columbia County. But Nassau is counting more of its population. So it stands to receive more funding per person than we do.

Then there’s the process of redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts as well as districts in the state legislature based on the new census figures. It’s likely that the State of New York will lose one or two seats in the House because other states have grown faster than we have. The results can produce gerrymandered districts that favor parties but not necessarily voters.

The effort to achieve an accurate headcount in upstate New York faces lots of obstacles. Chief among them is the lack of high speed internet service. That makes it harder for people with poor service (or none) to participate in the census. If you can get to a computer the official website is 2020census.gov .

It didn’t help that the Trump administration has been trying to undercut the constitutional requirement to count everyone, regardless of citizenship. But the count isn’t over yet and there is brief opportunity left to gather more census data here in Columbia County.

Despite the pandemic and the administration’s mischief, which shortened the time available for the traditional house-by-house census enumeration, census employees are out on streets and porches talking to people who have not responded.

They have government identification. They are supposed to observe social distancing. They are not police. The information they gather is private. It may not be used in any way that reveals a respondent’s identity. It’s a federal law.

Sadly, some folks worry that the government will find a way to get to it anyway. That’s not an unreasonable fear. But it is being collected in good faith and it produces facts about how many of us live here and how we’re faring in these perilous times. These facts matter even if the government continues to invent its own “facts” whenever the truth is inconvenient.

Those of us who have already responded to the 2020 Census have one more task. Until September 30 we’ve got to ask everyone we encounter: Have you filled out a census form? If not, give that person the website or the phone number, 1-844-330-2020. If we don’t want to give away money or representation, we need these facts to be known.

EDITORIAL: Where’s the crossword?

WHERE’S THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE? Several readers have asked. The last Los Angeles Times puzzle in The Columbia Paper appeared March 26, 2020. We didn’t publish a print edition for 10 weeks after that date.

We’ve also heard from readers who said they didn’t notice our absence. Ouch.

A lot of readers have said they’re glad we’re back in print. I can’t give you a more precise figure for what constitutes “a lot.” Using that term is bad journalism but the comment isn’t meant to make news. The statement comes up in casual conversations, usually at the end of a chat, like a substitute for “Okay, goodbye.” Read more…

EDITORIAL: Federal aid is essential

HOW WOULD YOU go about finding $13 million? Let’s assume you don’t have it in a shoe box under your bed. It might take a few seconds longer now to get your imagination in gear. That’s the toll a pandemic can take on our thoughts, never mind our bodies. So keep the focus on $13 million.

That’s what the leadership of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors and other county officials have been working on as the economic impacts of the coronavirus have mounted and local business is barely waking up from a near standstill. A release last week from the board’s chairman, Matt Murell (R-Stockport) explained why the county needs $13 million and where they intend to get it.

Nobody should be surprised that the county expects to lose at least that much from its main sources of revenue: the county’s share of sales taxes, unpaid property tax bills, and reimbursements from the state and federal governments that will somehow get lost in the mail. And $13 million is what’s needed assuming the impact of Covid-19 remains close to being under control. If not, the lost revenue could amount to $20 million or more. Read more…

EDITORIAL: What change teaches us

IT SEEMED SO DESPERATE when Governor Cuomo signed the executive order early in the spring authorizing municipal governments to conduct their meetings online. And so weird. The technology was available… kind of. So run your village, your town, your city and county on Zoom.

Online meetings were a sideshow at the outset of the deluge of facts and fake facts and changing facts about the pandemic. But despite the initial confusion and weak security that attracted hackers to work their disruptive mischief (just ask the Hudson Board of Education), government and we, the governed , are adapting.

That process will change our language and our sense of time. In the near future, will anyone “go” to a meeting and where citizens sit side-by-side? Would anybody “attend” the hearings on budgets or new local laws? And where would you go if not to some “virtual” space? The key players participate as images; they “Zoom” to the forum digitally from home or some undisclosed location. Does it matter whether anyone is where they say they are? Maybe with prisoners. Read more…

EDITORIAL: Protection starts here

THE LICENSE PLATE SAID FLORIDA. Not unusual when what we call hot weather here would seem refreshingly cool down there. The car’s passengers were getting out. The dog was eager to greet them but I steered him in the opposite direction. No use taking chances.

It’s come to that. Fearing others based on what state they’re from. What we know so far about the coronavirus gives us reason to be wary. Florida currently leads the list of 22 states most of whose residents aren’t welcome here unless they and their traveling companions are willing to self-quarantine for two weeks. That’s how threatening spikes in Covid-19 are.

Apart from their car, how could anyone know where strangers come from or whether they’re strangers at all? Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order authorizing civil penalties of up to $10,000 for violation of the self-quarantine requirement. This week he released a plan to enforce that order at major airports around the state. Airports? What about parking lots? Read more…