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Concern Deepens In Massachusetts Over Census Count

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin.
Don Treeger
The Republican /
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin.

Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin has offered up state records to supplement what he described as shortcomings in the census due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes as a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to stop winding down operations, at least until a court hearing is held later on this week.

Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about the status of the relationship between Galvin and the feds — among other news in state government and politics this week.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Secretary Galvin wrote a letter last week to Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham asking him to consider some administrative records, and some of the state's own counts, as a supplement to the accounting efforts underway in the census.

The secretary said he has real concerns that the census is missing key populations in Massachusetts, and that the state is being undercounted.

This is not the first time he has raised concerns about how the census is handled in this year's decennial count. He is worried they abruptly tried to end the counting on September 30, about a month before it was originally supposed to conclude.

[Galvin] thinks they are missing a key immigrant population of students. And another group he is worried about undercounting: those living in dormitories, or who were displaced because of the pandemic, and may be living in off-campus housing, and not getting captured by the census.

He has written to the Census before, and asked them to consider this information. He has not been responded to in a manner that is satisfactory to him, and he continues to write and offer up information. So this is a bit of a tense time, with great implications for the next 10 years for the state of Massachusetts.

Speaking of students, many children in Massachusetts are heading back to classes this week, starting 10 days later than normal. In Connecticut, many schools that opened either quarantined teachers or sent kids home as coronavirus cases popped up. What's the plan for Massachusetts schools if that happens? And what are we expecting as teachers begin another school year?

It's a real risk, and even before students have been welcomed back into Massachusetts schools, we've seen districts abruptly changing plans.

For instance, in Dedham, after there was a cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to a high school party — actually, to watch a Bruins playoff game — that school district changed its plans to begin phasing students in, in-person about a week from now, after a remote start. It's tenuous times right now.

Teachers are also among those very concerned about the start of school, and whether these buildings are safe, whether there's enough testing in place. The major unions would like to see a pause on in-person learning, to start remotely, to give more time to consider how best to safely return to school, either fully in-person or hybrid.

But a lot of districts, by September 16 — this week — must begin with whatever plan they put in place. For a lot of them, that means bringing students and teachers back into the classroom.

One slowdown of the coronavirus pandemic is the passage of the annual state budget. I think the last time we talked about this, you mentioned lawmakers were hoping to get an infusion of cash from Washington. That hasn't materialized yet. What are lawmakers saying about a timeline to pass a budget? And how challenging is that balancing act?

Very challenging for them. The unprecedented nature of trying to budget in the pandemic is giving them a lot of difficulty.

They were really hoping by now to understand how much federal aid they could count on. It will really make a difference in terms of what the budget looks like, whether they have to cut deeply into programs because of declining revenue, or if they have federal money for support.

Congress has been unable to reach another deal for a new coronavirus stimulus package. It appears increasingly unlikely that that is going to get done from Congress before the election now, which complicates the state budgeting.

The state is currently operating on a three-month budget that expires at the end of October. The governor has said he's hopeful they will have enough information by then to put one in place. But what we're seeing is revenues, in some quarters, are declining. And other expenses, including health care on the state's major MassHealth/Medicaid program is also declining, which is not something they've expected.

So there's just a lot of different moving pieces here, that no one really knows how — when you pull one string, the other one will be impacted. They are going to take their time. And some lawmakers are saying that even by the end of October, it may not be possible yet to put in place a long-term budget.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

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