This weekend, the Jewish people will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, marking the beginning of the year 5781. As I reflect back on the year that is ending and look forward to the year ahead, I think that recent years will be remembered for how much we counted: How many people have been infected with the coronavirus? How many people have died from it? How many days have passed since we last went to our workplaces, our schools, or our synagogues physically and not virtually? How many minutes did Officer Derek Chauvin hold his knee on the neck of George Floyd? How many fires are raging in California? How many days remain until the 2020 election?
This year also marks the 24th time in which the United States is counting how many people reside within our borders, now for the 2020 Census. Unfortunately, with little time remaining until the deadline, only 55% of Philadelphia’s households have responded to the Census. That’s potentially devastating not only to Philadelphia’s representation in Congress but, potentially more significantly, to the billions of dollars annually allocated to our communities by the federal government.
For the next 10 years, the federal government will rely on the collected 2020 Census data to guide distribution of $1.5 trillion in annual spending across 316 federal programs. For example, in the context of planning and funding for healthcare, Census results will affect programs such as Medicaid, Medicare Part B, State Children’s Health Insurance, and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse. Similarly, the 2020 Census count will impact the allocation of federal funds for critical programs and services for schools, students, and younger children, such as special education, Head Start, after-school programs, and classroom technology.
In the context of food insecurity, a priority for us at the Jewish Federation, Census data will control funds available under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP, as well as for free and reduced-price school lunches. The 2020 Census data will be particularly important because it will be used in determining the distribution of funds for pandemic recovery.
As the arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia devoted to public policy education and advocacy, government affairs, and community relations, the Jewish Community Relations Council— which I chair—frequently reaches out to elected representatives about issues important to the Jewish community. That includes legislation to provide funding for our seniors, for our children, for our economically disadvantaged.
After the legislation for which we advocate has passed, it is the Census data that determines what share of the funds comes to our region. To illustrate, each additional person included in the 2000 Census resulted in an annual additional Medicaid reimbursement to most states of between several hundred and several thousand dollars depending on the state. Our legislative advocacy efforts will be multiplied by our success in making sure that everyone in our geographic area is counted.
The Census form can be found at https://2020census.gov/ and completed online. The deadline for submitting the forms online or mailing them is now September 30.
Over the High Holidays, we will be repeatedly inspired by our liturgy and our clergy’s sermons to make every day count, rather than counting our days. Our communal efforts to assure that everyone residing in Greater Philadelphia responds to the Census is one way that we can make our days over the next few weeks count. As Jews, we have a long tradition of valuing every soul. Please do what you can to make sure that everyone living in your area gets counted in this decennial American Census.
Thank you in advance for your efforts. L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah.
Arlene Fickler is the Board Chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.