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Heading in the Right Direction on City and State Census Funding, But More To Do


cm carlina rivera press conference

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The 2020 Census is less than a year away, and it is imperative that every single person living in New York is counted. In Mayor de Blasio’s proposed Executive Budget, New York City now has $26 million set aside for census outreach, in addition to an undetermined portion of the State’s $20 million that will go to the City.

A good start, but we need more than $26 million to ensure a full count, and with less than a year to go before the counting begins, there is still too much uncertainty about how much of and how fast these funds will make their way to the organizations doing the work on the ground.

This uncertainty is particularly alarming because of how much coordination we need between the City and State to achieve a complete count. We cannot allow anything short of a comprehensive funding strategy to happen. There is too little time and too much at stake, and a smart down payment in 2019 will pay billions in federal dividends if the census is a success.

We’re talking about upwards of $73 billion in federal funding for food, schools, housing, and more for the state. Our representation in Congress is on the line. Even how we draw our State and City district lines is affected. Getting the census right isn’t a wonky statistical game. It directly affects the flow of federal resources going to New York and will determine our economic and political future for the next ten years.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau has a hard time counting New Yorkers. More than half the people who live in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods, which the Census Bureau defines as areas with a self-response rate of 73% or less in the past census. Such neighborhoods exist in Manhattan and Staten Island as well. The hardest-to-count populations are already among our most vulnerable and underrepresented – immigrants, people of color, low-income people, people with limited English proficiency, and young children.

Yet instead of increasing funding for the Census Bureau, President Trump has slashed it to its lowest point in decades and is fighting to include a citizenship question in the Census that would further depress participation.

Many groups in New York recognize the importance of this moment and have mobilized to ensure a complete count, from community-based organizations, religious leaders, unions, and the business community.

Some of the most trusted and well-regarded advocacy organizations in the State – the New York Immigration Coalition, Asian American Federation, Citizens Union Foundation, NAACP, and Association for a Better New York, among others – have formed coalitions and started educating New Yorkers about the importance of completing the census.

Yet none of these groups can succeed without a commitment from government to work together and fund their efforts directly. These groups know how to reach hard-to-count populations and mobilize them to participate. And through the City Council’s Census 2020 Task Force, the Council can identify even more trusted hyperlocal groups for direct funds to ensure a complete count.

We believe the City and State should combine their efforts and use the most direct routes possible to fund these local census outreach operations to their maximum potential. We also believe we can do better and that the City and State must increase census funding to truly meet the challenge we face.

This is a one-time investment in our economic and political future. There are no do-overs. We will not have a chance to correct any mistakes for another ten years and will live with the effects of an undercount for a decade. We must treat this emergency with the importance it demands.

In ten years, we will either look back knowing we seized the opportunity to control our economic and political destiny or wonder why we lost out on billions for ordinary New Yorkers to save millions upfront. When you consider the choice, the answer is obvious. The City and State must work together and fully fund this effort.

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Steven Choi is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. City Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Carlina Rivera are co-chairs of the Council’s Census Task Force. On Twitter @SteveChoiNY & @cmenchaca & @CarlinaRivera.

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