ITHACA, N.Y. –– Concern continues to grow amongst local public officials regarding the 2020 census and what low response rates due to coronavirus and the sudden departure of thousands of college students could mean for federal funding in the future. A message sent out by Tompkins County Tuesday focused on what low response and population misrepresentation could mean for transportation including road infrastructure, trailways and bus service.

The Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council receives funding based on census figures to build and maintain roads, do bridge repairs, paving, maintain and create recreational trails, monitor pedestrian safety and perform highway improvements. 

Based on the last census in 2010, ITCTC received approximately $34 million in funds to support those projects over the next five years. Fernando De Aragón, executive director of the ITCTC said that money is likely to be impacted as the next five year period will use 2020 census data to formulate funding. Perhaps more importantly though, De Aragón said if the population response dips below the level to be considered a “metropolitan” area (50,000 residents) then his organization could be dissolved and all decisions regarding local funding allocation would be made out of the regional transportation office in Syracuse. 

“By having a metropolitan planning organization we’ve been able to bring a lot more money into the community…we have a seat at the table,” he said.

Additionally, about $15 million in funding based off census data went towards supporting Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) and paratransit provider Gadabout Transportation Services. 

Census data helps determine how much federal transportation funding local governments and communities receive, but also planners at TCAT use census data to help design their bus routes. More rural routes or routes  to underreported areas could face cuts because of census data. 

“TCAT and Gadabout enable transit-dependent populations, including low-income residents, seniors, and persons with disabilities, to share in work and learning opportunities, to go to medical appointments, run errands and enjoy local recreation and entertainment venues,” the county’s press release states. “Public transit connects Tompkins County residents with Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College, as well as to cultural, economic, and social opportunities.”

Every household in the U.S. has been mailed a questionnaire and can complete the census online, by mail or over the phone at 1-844-330-2020. Mailings and postcards to households include a unique Census ID to use while filling out the questionnaire online. 

To date, 58.1% of households in Tompkins County have taken the census according to the online census response rate tracker. The number is calculated relative to a Census bureau estimate based on the 2010 count, added housing stock data, and updated data from the American Community Survey.  

Census tract counts in Downtown Ithaca and surrounding Cornell University and Ithaca College continue to be low according to the online tracker, with Collegetown only having a 20-30% response rate. County officials are urging residents who live in these areas (or who are temporarily away due to COVID-19) to accurately complete the census.  

Again, college students who have left Ithaca due to the coronavirus are encouraged to be counted as being in Tompkins County, as the Census counts people where they expected to reside on April 1 of 2020.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com