The latest population estimates show losses of nearly 12,000 people in Cambria County and more than 2,000 in Somerset County since the 2010 census.
With federal funding and government representation tied to population, local leaders are taking steps to make sure the 2020 census provides the most accurate data possible.
“It is important, because a lot of money comes from the census,” Shanna Murphy Sosko said at the Cambria County Planning Commission office in Ebensburg.
“There is $675 billion at stake over the next 10 years in Cambria County in federal funding. Each person is worth up to $20,000 over the next 10 years.”
Local leaders contacted by The Tribune-Democrat cited two significant challenges for the Census Bureau this year: Overcoming respondents' privacy concerns or apathy, and identifying the locations of residences.
“People are so worried about their information,” Borough Manager Dan Penatzer said in the Ebensburg Municipal Building. “I think it's going to be tough to get the message out. I really fear, with concerns about privacy, that it's going to hamper the census in making an accurate count.”
Former Scalp Level Borough Council member George Hancock said residents there may be tallied in the wrong community or even the wrong county.
Residents of the Cambria County borough have Windber mailing addresses with a 15963 ZIP code, and Windber Borough is in Somerset County. As census data collection relies more heavily on digital mapping and online information, Hancock fears the discrepancies will lead to errors.
“My concern is very simple,” Hancock said in an email. “New software used by many (organizations) places Windber, Pa., 15963 in Somerset County. The University of Pittsburgh is a great example. The Pitt software program places all individuals with a Windber, Pa., 15963 address in Somerset County.”
The Census Bureau makes efforts to be sure addresses are identified in the correct municipalities and counties, spokesman Daniel Velez said. He pointed to the bureau's address-canvassing program, which used satellite imagery to verify address locations and wrapped up with 10 weeks of in-field canvassing.
For 2020, the canvassing operation added 5.5 million new addresses and validated 106 million addresses with help from local, state and tribal government agencies, the bureau's website says.
Local, state and county governments had the opportunity to participate in the Local Update of Census Addresses operation. Somerset, Westmoreland, Blair, Indiana and Clearfield counties are identified as participants on the Census Bureau website. Participating municipalities included Adams, Cambria and Richland townships and Carrolltown, Northern Cambria and Patton boroughs in Cambria County. In Somerset County, LUCA participants were Jenner and Larimer townships and Boswell, Paint, Rockwood, Stoystown and Windber boroughs.
Participating communities received software with the census list of addresses, with the opportunity to verify, add and delete individual listings, Adams Township secretary Jennifer Zakraysek said.
“We participated so we could hopefully get a more accurate count,” Zakraysek said. “I believe I added about 15 addresses.”
Although there is no fee to participate in the LUCA operation, municipal employees can spend significant time on the project.
Richland Township public works staff spent several days verifying addresses, township Executive Director Rian Barker said.
“We are doing the major streets and boundaries, making sure everything that is going to be counted is in Richland,” Barker said, explaining that the township identified some Richland addresses the Census Bureau did not have and also deleted some addresses that are actually in neighboring municipalities.
Somerset County coordinated its census map review with the county's 911 mapping program used by emergency services and the tax assessment office, mapper Gary Ziegler said from the assessment office. Staff from the mapping office regularly go out and check the locations of new residential addresses, he said.
Although he admits the number of municipalities included in the Windber ZIP Code has led to some confusion, Ziegler said he doesn't see it as a concern for census numbers.
“That's part of the review process,” he said.
Scalp Level Borough Councilwoman Noretta Hajdu understands the concern over the community's identity. She has seen many real estate listings for Windber homes that are actually in Scalp Level.
The borough has been involved with several collaborations with its Windber-addressed neighbors.
“When we try to work with other communities, we are always the last one out,” Hajdu said. “That's where we are.”
She's more worried about Scalp Level people simply not completing the census information.
“I think we will be under-counted,” Hajdu said. “People are hesitant to give information. If people do participate it, does help to get a good accurate census.”
Keep it 'confidential'
Cambria Township Supervisor Tim Bracken and secretary Susan Mazenko led the address updating project. Both stressed the Census Bureau's meticulous scrutiny of privacy.
“Any information they gave us, we had to destroy,” Mazenko said. “We weren't allowed to use it for anything else.”
“They are very strict,” Bracken said. “We can't stress enough that everything is confidential. They are really taking the steps to make sure the information you are giving is kept in strictest confidence.”
On its website, the Census Bureau stresses that information is protected by law, which “not only provides authority for the work we do, but also provides strong protection for the information we collect from individuals and businesses. As a result, the Census Bureau has one of the strongest confidentiality guarantees in the federal government.”
A group of government, social service and business leaders, along with other interested individuals is preparing an outreach campaign to encouraged participation, Murphy Sosko said. The Cambria County Census Complete Count Committee has been meeting for a few months and will launch its formal campaign in February, she said.
"We have representatives from the census we've been working with," Murphy Sosko said. "The Census Bureau provides a lot of guidance along the way, but the process is in the communities' hands. Local volunteers are most effective at this point."