Helfrich: Supreme Court injured York City residents with census ruling

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, census worker Ken Leonard wore a mask as he manned a U.S. Census walk-up counting site set up for Hunt County in Greenville, Texas, July 31.

Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling halting census field operations will ultimately injure York City residents by leaving the city with less federal aid, Mayor Michael Helfrich said.

The high court on Tuesday afternoon abruptly ruled to allow President Donald Trump's administration to move up the deadline for the decennial head-count, which was initially slated to last through Oct. 31. Counting can cease Thursday, under the high court's ruling.

York City officials already had said the pandemic had hampered their census outreach efforts.

"The miscount due to COVID and the shortsighted judgment of the federal government and Supreme Court will hurt every city resident,” Helfrich said. “A complete and fair count is absolutely necessary to understand how funds from the federal government can be properly disbursed.”

More:Supreme Court halts census in latest twist of 2020 count

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

The Tuesday ruling, in which Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, reversed a lower court's order that required the count to continue through October.

The Trump administration has repeatedly attempted to cut the census short and bar the counting of undocumented immigrants, who have been included in every census in U.S. history. 

The administration, however, argued that counting needed to end immediately so the U.S. Census Bureau would have time to compile and compute its data by Dec. 31, a deadline set by Congress.

The process, known as apportionment, determines the number of congressional seats in each state.

Critics say Trump is attempting to undercut political power in minority communities by intentionally undercounting them, while limiting the amount of aid they receive from the government. 

"This move only serves to further entrench executive power, diminish the power of voters and skew representation disproportionately for hard-to-count minority and rural communities," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., tweeted after the ruling.

In York City, an undercount would mean fewer federal dollars, officials said. It is estimated that each individual accounts for about $2,000 of funding annually.

“The census is taken every 10 years, so your participation is worth $20,000 to the children of York, the elders of York, fair housing in York,” Helfrich said. “These are the things that the money goes toward.”

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich is joined by York City Police Chief Osborne "Moe" Robinson III, left, during a rally at Continental Square Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Protesters gathered in the city for a second straight day calling for justice after George Floyd died after an altercation with Minneapolis police officers. Over 1,000 people attended the rally. Bill Kalina photo

York City's efforts to boost census participation among its estimated 44,000 residents had already been struggling, which officials blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gov. Tom Wolf's gathering restrictions limited large gatherings used to tout census participation, said Ricky Quintero, an aide to Helfrich who is spearheading the city's census outreach efforts.

In addition, many residents may have been hesitant to even answer when census workers knocked on their doors because of the pandemic, he said. 

"Unfortunately, during this time, it has been very difficult to obtain the numbers we expected," Quintero said in an interview the day before the Supreme Court made its ruling.

It's impossible to quantify how much of an impact the pandemic had on the city's count.

That's largely because the U.S. Census Bureau does not have municipal or county-level data that demonstrates what percentage of the population has been counted.

But the available data, especially pertaining to those households that self-reported online or by mail, doesn't bode well for York City's overall turnout. 

By that criteria alone, York City fell behind other cities in the state.

Just 56% of the city's population self-reported for the census, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Meanwhile, Lancaster, Gettysburg, Pittsburgh and Allentown all had self-reporting rates of about 65%, and Scranton was at 60.2%.

On the lower end, only 48.8% of Harrisburg residents self-reported.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.