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State College Borough Plans To Request A Census Recount, Suspecting A Pandemic-Related Undercount

Min Xian

The Borough of State College is listed as having about 1,500 fewer residents than in 2010 in new 2020 population data the Census Bureau released last week.

Assistant to the Borough Manager Douglas Shontz said the reported drop in population was not a surprise, given how the pandemic disrupted the counting process last year, even though in reality the population “shouldn’t have” decreased.

He said college towns like State College were uniquely challenged because many schools, including Penn State, told students not to return to campus after spring break in 2020, which was just before Census Day.

Shontz said despite the borough’s efforts to “basically beg” students and residents to participate in the census, traditional methods like door-to-door canvassing were hampered by the pandemic.

Borough officials believe State College was undercounted, and say it could have a decade-long impact, including on how much in community development block grants they can get. Those grants were lifelines during the pandemic, they said.

“One would assume with the increased development and increase in housing availability throughout the Borough, there would’ve been an increase in population,” Shontz said. Borough staff has begun compiling those records as well as enrollment numbers at Penn State in preparation for making the case for a recount.

The Census Bureau has what it calls a Count Question Resolution Program (CQR) for local governments to dispute the results and pay for a recount. Shontz said that could be between $150,000 and $200,000 according to towns that have been through the process, and the borough would consider paying.

“The way that this impacts us, if that’s the investment that it takes, we’re definitely going to take that seriously and develop that in our budgeting process,” he said.

Unless the undercount is a systematic failure, he added.

“If this is countrywide, if community towns have been undercounted consistently around the nation, then that shouldn’t be a cost burden on those college towns,” Shontz said. “That really is a failed operation from the federal level.”

The Census Bureau said the deadline for local governments to submit their cases regarding inaccurate results will be June 30, 2023. But any potentially revised numbers wouldn’t affect redistricting.

“The 2020 Census CQR is not a mechanism to revise the counts sent to the Office of the President by December 31, 2020, which are used to apportion the U.S. House of Representatives,” according to the program’s operation plan. “The Census Bureau does not make any changes to the apportionment, redistricting, or official 2020 Census data products.

New legislative maps in Pennsylvania are expected to be drawn before the election in May 2022.

State College Borough Councilman Evan Myers said during a meeting Monday that the potential impacts of an undercount on federal funding and on voting would be a “double whammy.”

Centre County is among the 23 Pennsylvania counties that saw population growth according to the latest census data, but the growth rate is lower than the 2019 estimate.

Copyright 2021 WPSU. To see more, visit WPSU.

Min Xian is a reporter for WPSU and Keystone Crossroads, covering news and public affairs in Central and Northern Pennsylvania. She reports on issues facing Central PA cities and rural communities, involving infrastructure, education, immigration and more. Before joining as a staff reporter, Min was a news intern for WPSU for a year. Previously Min worked as a part-time videographer and photographer for Penn State College of Engineering. She was also a contributing writer and freelance photographer for the Centre Daily Times. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Penn State University. A native speaker of Mandarin and Cantonese, Min spends a lot of time coming up with headlines and puns.