2010 census critically important to Pioneer Valley

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Answering the 10 census questions the government is asking of people living in this country will only take 10 minutes. None of the information will be shared - it can't, by federal statue - with any court, the FBI, CIA or immigration authorities and Western Massachusetts will benefit with continued federal funding.

That was the message from census officials and Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver at the kick-off event of the Pioneer Valley 2010 Complete Count Committee (CCC) at the new offices of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) on Tuesday.

If people don't wish to be counted, the very services on which they might rely will undoubtedly be cut and Massachusetts might lose a congressional seat. The CCC will assist in the effort to encourage people living in the valley to participate in the census.

Allocations of federal money are made on the basis of population, Neal explained. Vital Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to local medical centers are also based in part to formulas based on census information.

Neal pointed out that 20 years ago Massachusetts lost a congressional seat, which was later granted to Washington, because of the results of the census that indicated a drop in population.

Neal admitted that all of New England as well as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, are facing potential losses in population. PVPC Executive Director Timothy Brennan added that what has kept Massachusetts from dropping even more has been an infusion of immigration.

Everyone in the Bay State needs to be counted, even illegal immigrants, Neal explained. Acknowledging the "highly charged process," Neal stressed that participating in the census and potentially keeping the two congressional seats representing the four western counties "simply means more aggressive representation and that's good for all of us."

Olver said that in the 2000 census there was an "under-count" of at least 50,000 people in the state, which translated to half a billion dollars in federal aid the state did not receive over the course of a decade.

For Springfield, the situation is even more pronounced as Mayor Domenic Sarno said if the city falls underneath 150,000 residents it will lose federal dollars and see a possible reduction in representation at the State House.

Kathleen Ludgate, the regional director of the Boston Regional Census Office, most Americans will get the census form in their mail in March 2010. It will have no questions on citizenship or legal status and will be the shortest questionnaire in history. The forms will be available in English, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese and Simplified Chinese, she said.

There will be online language assistance for 28 other languages, she added.

There will be two census offices in the area - Springfield and Pittsfield - which will hire hundreds of people for the temporary jobs.

In light of a recent death of a census worker in Kentucky that is being investigated as a homicide, Ludgate said all census employees are trained to understand that "safety comes first."

"If you have a gut feeling [about something] then walk away," she explained.

Part of the Census Bureau's strategy in obtaining answers to census questions to ensure safety of census workers is to hire people to work in their own neighborhoods, she added.

There will be a national advertising campaign to counter fears about the census process, she added.

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