Scanlon, Pa. Dems talk about Census challenges amid pandemic

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon hosts a virtual census discussion Thursday, May 21. (Capital-Star Screen Capture).

The U.S. Census, which comes every 10 years, is a massive logistical and bureaucratic undertaking at the best of times.

Now imagine trying to count every person living in the United States in the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century — and a presidential season.

During a live chat on Facebook and Twitter on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, and some of her fellow Democrats, ran down some of the challenges facing census-takers in the age of COVID-19. 

“Understand what we are facing,” said U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, who also participated in the session. “We are trying to count during a presidential election and a pandemic.”

Evans, along with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and U.S. Reps. Reps. Susan Wild, D-7th District; , Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, and Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, also joined the session. 

COVID-19 raises census concerns

Stephanie Reid, a representative for Pennsylvania’s census efforts said while enumerators will not be visiting door-to-door right now due to health and safety concerns from COVID-19, they will be out in August.

In the meantime, Reid said, Pennsylvanians can take the census online or by calling 844-330-2020.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scanlon and the others emphasized the importance of the census and getting an accurate count. 

Evans called the census “the safeguard of our democracy.”

“It’s impossible to understate the importance of it,” said Fetterman, pointing out the nonpartisan nature of the census. “This dates back to the very founding of our country.”

2020 Census Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Fetterman said that missing a single Pennsylvanian in the count is a loss of $2,100 dollars per year. 

Pointing to the millions of dollars Pennsylvania receives in federal funding from census data, Scanlon reiterated Fetterman’s point, “It’s not chump change.”

While it’s almost certain that Pennsylvania will lose a member of its Congressional representation after this year’s census count due to population shifts, it’s important that Pennsylvania doesn’t lose more than that, Scanlon said. 

Shapiro, Houlahan and Wild all cited examples of programs that could be affected by an inaccurate count, and consequently, fewer federal dollars, such as CHIP, SNAP and Head Start programs. 

Here’s what’s at stake for Pa. in the 2020 Census: School funding, road repairs and more

Wild said that her Lehigh Valley-based district has had strong return numbers, but added, “we’re far from finished.”

Wild expressed concerns over children under five not being counted. 

“I can’t think of any segment of our population that needs our help more than our children,” Wild said. 

Reid validated Wild’s concern over under counting children, saying, “Children under 5 are the most frequently under counted group.”

Kenney urged Philadelphians to be counted. 

“You need to fill out the census,” he said, “that means every Philadelphia resident.”

Weighing in on the need to have all of Pennsylvanians residents counted, not just citizens, Shapiro said the state was part of a lawsuit in 2019 against the Trump administration’s push for a citizenship question on the census questionnaire. 

The citizenship question was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court, but data shows that many immigrants are still apprehensive about taking the census, for fear of revealing their immigration status, despite the fact that law prohibits census data being used for deportation. 

“We’re going to make sure we do everything in the courts to make sure we get a fair census,” Shapiro said. 

Cassie Miller
A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.