Gotham Gazette Sat, 31 Oct 2020 14:20:11 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New York City Overcomes Obstacles to Outperform 2020 Census Projections NYC 2020 Census

A pre-pandemic NYC Census event (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Census officials celebrated a robust self-response rate in the Census on Tuesday, despite unprecedented hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and attempts by the Trump administration to discourage participation. The city’s self-response reached an unofficial 61.8% when the constitutionally mandated decennial population count concluded last week on October 15.

The self-response rate for New York City residents was nearly the same as 2010 but came amid a slew of complicating factors that made the count the most challenging it has been in decades. The city also had a far smaller gap between its household completion rate and the national average.

New York City already has its fair share of hard-to-count populations – such as Native Americans, seniors, undocumented immigrants, African Americans, children under the age of five, people experiencing homelessness – who tend to voluntarily respond to the Census at lower rates. At the same time, the Trump administration unsuccessfully sought to place a citizenship question on the Census, which contributed to a heightened sense of anxiety among immigrant communities that are already wary of interactions with the government. The U.S. Census Bureau had been underfunded and understaffed as well, which meant there were fewer enumerators to knock on the doors of households that did not respond to initial prompts.

Then came the pandemic, forcing city, state, and federal officials to suspend in-person operations. The Census Bureau, in response, announced that it would extend the self-response period to October 31, but that timeline kept shifting and being litigated in court as the Trump administration sought, and eventually succeeded, to cut it shorter. New York City officials adapted quickly throughout, having planned and put into motion a $40 million Census outreach program, the highest funding ever from the city, which included $19 million in direct funding for 157 community-based organizations based on allocations made by de Blasio and the City Council.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state government had promised a $70 million Census effort that never materialized.

Nonetheless, the city’s self-response rate was nearly four points higher than the Census Bureau’s projections of 58% made in 2019. In Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens, the response rate was higher than in 2010, increasing by 1.8, 1.3, and 1.9 percentage points, respectively, according to the CUNY Census mapping project.

“What a vote of confidence in this city,” the mayor said at his daily news briefing on Tuesday. “And also, what an amazing action by New Yorkers – with every effort to undermine and discourage them, they still came through. All of you came through. That's an amazing number, given what we were up against. We saw some really great results.”

De Blasio heaped praise on NYC Census 2020 Director Julie Menin, whom he appointed to the role after she had led two different agencies in his administration, and her team.

Though the city’s response fell behind the national self-response rate of 67% and the statewide rate of 64.2%, it nonetheless surpassed many other major cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Detroit, among others.

It was no easy feat for the city. The city Census office and community partners held more than 1,000 events, according to a press release. There were 34 media campaigns in 27 languages. Volunteers and Census workers made more than 4 million phone calls and sent more than 7 million texts. Nearly a million New Yorkers clicked on the city’s digital ads and more than 470,000 city households that are home to 1.23 million residents were either counted or got assistance in filling out the Census questionnaire.

“It's so important, because for every household over two people that is counted, that brings New York City $7,000 per year, or $70,000 over 10 years, not to mention, of course, the importance of the political representation,” said Menin, at the news conference on Tuesday, referring to seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, which are based off of state population tallies done in the Census, as well as local districts within the State Legislature and other entities.

The Census determines levels of federal funding that the city and state receive on many fronts, and the population count also undergirds the process of drawing electoral districts at the city, state, and federal levels. As it stands, New York State could lose one seat in the House of Representatives because of outmigration over the last decade. A severe undercount in the Census could mean the loss of two seats.

“By any measure, what the city and the partner organizations did was really impressive,” said Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center, and a nationally-renowned Census count expert. “And to be able to sustain the effort and to have the patience and flexibility to pivot from in-person outreach to virtual phone-banking and the like, and to still have a response rate 60% or above is really good.”

Jeff Behler, director for the U.S. Census Bureau's New York Regional Office, praised city officials for their success. “I've never seen the level of effort – and this is my third Census – that I've seen with the partners throughout New York City,” he said in a phone interview, pointing out that thousands of planned events had to be scrapped when the pandemic hit. “I'm amazed at 61.8%, given the fact that...due to COVID the ability to bring people together was eliminated.”

Though the count is over, the Census process is far from done. There is still pending legislation in Congress that would extend the time that the Census Bureau has to deliver Census data to the White House, which has set a December 31 deadline for that to happen. The Trump administration is also attempting to exclude undocumented immigrants from that data before it delviers it to Congress for the apportionment of electoral districts, a decision that has been challenged and will be heard in the Supreme Court next month.

City officials and advocates are closely monitoring those developments, fearful that if the administration succeeds, it could skew the data, particularly in jurisdictions like New York City with large populations of undocumented immigrants.

"For more than a year, there has been a statewide New York Census operation, which understood that it was up against an administration that would do everything it could to keep immigrant New Yorkers from being counted, and acted accordingly," Meeta Anand, the Census 2020 Senior Fellow for the New York Immigration Coalition, said in a statement. “Thanks to the litigation to date, our partners used every minute, hour, and day of almost two extra weeks to ensure that every New Yorker—regardless of legal status, age, or country of origin—were counted. Now, we must build on that momentum and finish the last few days of the 2020 Census New York strong!”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

New York City Overcomes Obstacles to Outperform 2020 Census Projections Tue, 20 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Officials Urge 2020 Census Participation with Just Hours Left in the Count holds cen mou

A Census march (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to shut down counting of the 2020 Census ahead of the previously-scheduled October 31 conclusion. After several shifts in the deadline, it now appears final that New Yorkers have until Friday morning at 6 a.m. to complete the questionnaire that is required by the U.S. Constitution for counting all residents of the United States every ten years.

As of Wednesday, officials reported the Census completion rate in New York City at 61.4% of households.

The move to shorten the count is likely to significantly impact the counting of communities of color, including undocumented immigrants, and other hard-to-count populations, and will likely have a negative impact on New York’s share of federal funding for the coming decade and, possibly, the number of seats in the House of Representatives allotted to the state.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many door-to-door census outreach operations in New York City were discontinued, primarily from March to May. This, non-governmental organizations and the New York City Census 2020 team said at a Wednesday City Council hearing, may have significantly impeded the process of counting communities of color, including undocumented immigrants, who President Trump has sought to either dissuade from participating or simply not count. Wednesday’s Council hearing on the 2020 Census by tits Committee on Governmental Operations was scheduled before the Supreme Court’s decision, but was part of new last-minute urgency about the final hours of the count.

The de Blasio administration has put together a massive census operation that has helped boost the city’s self-response rate from 2010 levels and close the important city-national gap despite New York being the city worst-hit by the pandemic and a lack of investment by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, which had promised robust efforts but did not follow through.

As of Wednesday, Staten Island topped the city in self-response rate at 66.1%, Manhattan at 62.5%, Queens at 62.3%, and The Bronx at 62% - all an improvement from 2010, Census officials said. Meanwhile, Brooklyn, the city’s most populous borough, had its lowest response rate at 57%.

Julie Menin, Director of NYC Census 2020, noted Wednesday that New York State beat the U.S. Census Bureau’s pre-COVID estimates by 3.4 points. New York City also beat Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, and Baltimore and cut the gap between the city and the country to 5 points from 14 in 2010.

Census efforts faced a challenge when it came to Manhattan, given officials said many had left the borough in March as the coronavirus outbreak took hold, and had not come back since or had not filled out the census. Last-minute efforts by the city census office are focused on getting more responses from Manhattan and upping the overall count.

“We had heard anecdotally that they had filled it in second locations and not in Manhattan, so we mailed them to correct their location and phone banked and texted them. Manhattan numbers moved as a result but it was and still is a very stubborn problem,” Menin said. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said at the hearing that the hours till the deadline will be crucial in terms of counting and advised looking at schools, synagogues, and churches to reach out. 

Other outreach efforts included contacting people who had requested absentee ballots. “The Board of Elections gave out information on everyone who had asked for an absentee ballot, who had asked for ballots for the June primary to be sent outside the five boroughs. So we simply contacted people who got those ballots,” said Menin.

Corona, Queens was at the bottom of the list among New York City neighbourhoods in terms of self-response rates, according to Amit Bagga, Deputy Director of NYC Census 2020. Much of this was attributed to the pandemic, which hit the area hardest, and efforts focused on immigrant communities turned to reaching out at food and mask distribution events, and phone banking in multiple languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Hindi, Nepali, Russian, Bangla, and Urdu. Hustle, WhatsApp, and WeChat platforms were also used to text message information about the census.

City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, co-chair of the Council’s census task force, questioned if there were any outreach efforts that didn’t particularly work, noting that ICE raids have been frequent in neighborhoods like Sunset Park, which made communicating census enrollment harder. Menin responded that the biggest problem was misinformation around the census that could have been easily dealt with if in-person canvassing was an option, but phone-banking wasn’t completely effective at dealing with. 

On the question of difficult-to-reach populations, Bagga pointed to Doubled Up, a multilingual campaign by the city census office around the thousands of New Yorkers who live in largely illegal basement units, and outreach included landlords who often discourage their tenants from participating in the count. The Orthodox Jewish community, Menin noted, were the toughest to get to participate in the census, but community leaders and local media, particularly radio, were the major movers of the needle. The focus for the final hours will be on phone-banking and door-to-door canvassing.

“This could be a day of celebration of all the work we’ve done, but unfortunately we are talking about another attack by the Trump administration, and yesterday’s announcement was a loss of democracy in this country,” said Antonio Alarcon, census coordinator for Make the Road NY, an advocacy group, during an emergency press conference before the Council hearing. “Any attempt to shortchange the census count is an attempt to shortchange our communities. We are disappointed by the decision for it to be stopped two weeks earlier, and this is once again a direct attack on communities of color.”

“Losing two weeks is critical,” Menin said, adding, “it’s so much we could have done with that time we have now lost. We are going to look at every single legal option if the count is inaccurate or it emerges that New York was undercounted.”

“The money we get for hospitals, affordable housing, Medicaid, school funding, mass transit - every area of life in our city has a federal component, so when we ask for appropriations we need to have the appropriate count,” said Derek Perkinson, NYC Field director at the National Action Network. “That’s the critical threat, apart from losing congressional seats.”

Cuomo put out a press release on Wednesday afternoon urging New Yorkers to fill out the Census before the Friday morning deadline, and reminding them that it can be done online, by phone at 1-844-330-2020, or via the paper form, including with the help of a census worker.

The press release from Cuomo’s office stressed that “The Census asks how many people are living in your household as of April 1, 2020. The Census asks just 10 basic questions: name; number of people living or staying in the home on April 1, 2020; whether the residence is owned or rented; telephone number (only to be used if needed for official Census Bureau business); sex; age; date of birth; Hispanic origin; race; and relationship with other household members.”

It does not ask about citizenship status, political party, or any other characteristics beyond the above.

"The Census only happens once every 10 years and it's one of the most important ways New Yorkers can help ensure the state gets the representation and funding we need in Washington. This process profoundly affects our state's future, and I strongly urge every New Yorker to participate and do it now," Cuomo said in a statement. "As New York continues the fight for aid from the federal government to help us respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the time is now for New Yorkers to complete the Census."

by Divya Karthikeyan, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Officials Urge 2020 Census Participation with Just Hours Left in the Count Wed, 14 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Respuestas Al Censo Varían Bastante Entre Las Comunidades Latinas De La Ciudad 4 census rally park

Census outreach efforts (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

This article was also published in English - read that version here.

El conteo del censo, el cual ocurre una vez por década y se acerca a su conclusión al final de este mes, ha sido muy accidentado en la ciudad de Nueva York. La peor pandemia en un siglo desbarató elaborados planes de alcance comunitario y desató una cascada de efectos sociales y económicos que pone en peligro la precisión de las cifras, las cuales se utilizan en todos los niveles del gobierno y el sector privado para la planificación, el uso de fondos públicos y la representación estatal y federal. La administración de Trump ha hecho todo lo posible para enturbiar las aguas y deprimir la participación en áreas con grandes poblaciones inmigrantes y de bajos ingresos. Intentó sin éxito agregar una pregunta de ciudadanía al formulario y excluir a los inmigrantes indocumentados del conteo usado para determinar la proporción de escaños en el congreso nacional.

En la ciudad de Nueva York, la cual para el 21 de septiembre tenía una tasa de auto-respuesta del 60.2 por ciento (cuatro puntos por debajo de la tasa del censo de 2010), estos desafíos han tenido un impacto variado en áreas con alta población latina, que por lo general fueron las más afectadas por el coronavirus y donde impera un temor profundamente arraigado a una burocracia federal hostil. Según datos de la oficina del censo derivados de sus propias encuestas comunitarias y otras fuentes, el año pasado, de los 8.34 millones de habitantes del municipio, el 29 por ciento, o unos 2.4 millones de individuos, eran de origen hispano o latino, descrito como “una persona de origen o cultura cubana, mexicana, puertorriqueña, sudamericana o centroamericana, u otro origen o cultura hispana.”

Un análisis de áreas con porcentajes bajos de participación del Instituto Rockefeller de Política Pública, parte del sistema SUNY, encontró que ser hispano, tener un dominio limitado del inglés, ser inquilino en vez de propietario, nacido en el extranjero, y sin acceso Internet, entre otros factores, implica un mayor riesgo de no ser incluido en el censo, lo cual no es ninguna sorpresa. El singular enfoque de la administración de Trump hacia la inmigración no ha hecho más que aumentar la desconfianza hacia el censo en comunidades con altas cifras de residentes nacidos en el exterior, como es el caso de muchos vecindarios latinos.

Como se muestra en un mapeo del Centro de Investigación Urbana de CUNY, algunas áreas como las grandes comunidades dominicana y puertorriqueña en Washington Heights e Inwood, en el alto Manhattan, han tenido buenas tasas de auto-respuesta. Casi todos los conteos en esos vecindarios superan el promedio de la ciudad, y varios hasta sobrepasan el 70 por ciento. Otros, como los enclaves mexicanos y ecuatorianos en Sunset Park, Brooklyn, se han quedado rezagados, con solo un par de conteos dentro del promedio, y la mayoría con porcentajes alrededor del 50%, y hasta 40%. En general, los vecindarios predominantemente latinos con menor participación incluyen a Corona y North Corona, en Queens, y Cypress Hills y East New York en Brooklyn, mientras que las tasas de participación más altas se ven en Jackson Heights, Queens, el Lower East Side y Alphabet City en Manhattan, y Morris Heights en El Bronx.

A medida que los encuestadores se van desplegando por la ciudad, llamando puertas y alentando la participación en la etapa final del conteo, es esencial examinar lo que ha funcionado y lo que no en estas áreas, la efectividad de los esfuerzos por parte del gobierno municipal y las organizaciones locales para impulsar la participación, y cómo las cosas podrían cambiar en los últimos días. El alcalde Bill de Blasio, quien asignó bastantes recursos municipales al censo, ha insistido en la importancia de la participación en sus ruedas de prensa casi diarias, y él mismo ha tocado algunas puertas. Mientras tanto, su equipo se ha enfocado en varias comunidades con baja participación, incluyendo Corona, Jamaica, East New York y Canarsie. El objetivo clave, dijo De Blasio, es elevar los porcentajes de auto-respuesta hasta por lo menos igualar la tasa nacional, que llegó al 66,2 por ciento el 21 de septiembre. Aunque la administración de Trump había intentado terminar el conteo a final de septiembre tras haber anteriormente anunciado que se iba a alargar hasta el fin de octubre por causa del covid, el 24 de septiembre un juez federal ordenó el restablecimiento del 31 de octubre como fecha tope.

Según datos proporcionados por la oficina municipal del censo, de 398 vecindarios considerados principalmente (más del 50 por ciento) latinos, las tasas de auto-respuesta hasta el 15 de septiembre tenían un promedio del 58%, apenas por debajo de la tasa total de la ciudad, de un 60%. Sin embargo, desglosados ​​por zonas de conteo, los números varían enormemente, con diferencias notables incluso entre tramos que, a nivel superficial, parecen similares. Un ejemplo patente se da en Corona, que registra tasas de respuestas de alrededor del cuarenta por ciento, entre las más bajas en áreas latinas, mientras que partes del vecindario adyacente de Jackson Heights tienen algunas de las cifras más altas de la ciudad, con tasas por encima del 70%.

Julie Menin, directora de la oficina municipal del censo, dijo que la ciudad está en el buen camino, particularmente dada la lamentable distinción de ser epicentro de una pandemia global. “En el 2010, la ciudad estaba 14 puntos por detrás de la tasa de auto-respuesta nacional. En este momento, estamos seis puntos por detrás de la tasa nacional y seguimos cerrando la brecha cada semana,” dijo Menin. Ella reconoció la dificultad de alcanzar a algunas comunidades latinas, culpando a la administración de Trump por los diversos obstáculos que ha puesto en el camino. Sin embargo, aseguró que el gobierno municipal ha reaccionado de manera creativa para contrarrestar estos problemas, por ejemplo utilizando datos de registros de voto por correo para localizar residentes en áreas con bajos porcentajes, y contratando personal dedicado.

Conversaciones con grupos comunitarios y funcionarios municipales revelan algunos factores clave que han influido en las tasas de auto-respuesta en las comunidades latinas de Nueva York. Estos incluyen la solidez y organización de grupos locales, las diferencias socio-económicas y culturales entre los vecindarios, la prevalencia de situaciones irregulares de vivienda, el acceso a la tecnología, y la efectividad de las intervenciones de la ciudad.

Por ejemplo, si bien el carácter comúnmente irregular e informal de las situaciones de vivienda en áreas densas urbanas, y Nueva York en particular, se ha visto a menudo como una dificultad para los funcionarios del censo a la hora de planificar sus estrategias de enumeración, también puede ser un impedimento para las mismas personas que tienen que responder tras ser contactadas.

“Ha habido, y todavía hay, muchas preguntas sobre quién llena el formulario, a quién se debe incluir en las respuestas, y si algo hará saltar las alarmas para el propietario o la administración," dijo Anna Dioguardi Mayano, directora de desarrollo comunitario en Queens Community House, organización que recibió fondos municipales a través del Fondo de Conteo Completo (CCF). “Sí, hay mucho miedo de revelar el estatus migratorio. Pero a veces es aún mayor el temor a revelar situaciones de vivienda que se teme podrían causar problemas, o simplemente confusión.” Si, por ejemplo, dos familias y una persona soltera comparten un apartamento, ¿se supone que deben responder todos, o solo una familia en el hogar? ¿Cuántas personas hay en el "hogar"? (Se deben contar todas las personas dentro de un hogar, y una persona puede completar el censo para el hogar entero).

Otros tienen dudas sobre su elegibilidad y cómo el conteo puede afectar a su estatus migratorio. Se estima que 520.000 inmigrantes indocumentados residen en la ciudad de Nueva York, todos los cuales deben contarse en el censo. Las políticas federales a menudo se filtran a las poblaciones latinas a través de rumores, y a medida que se corre la voz los detalles se van perdiendo o deformando. El debate sobre la pregunta de ciudadanía ha derivado en el tristemente persistente mito de que sólo los ciudadanos estadounidenses deben participar en el conteo, entre otros temores de que la información proporcionada pueda ser usada por las autoridades de inmigración.

“Estaba en un proyecto de vivienda hace poco hablando principalmente con latinos, hay una gran comunidad dominicana y una gran comunidad de habla china allí, y muchos de ellos no habían completado el censo. Les preguntamos por qué, y dijeron que porque no son ciudadanos,” dijo la concejal Carlina Rivera, quien representa una sección de Manhattan que incluye el Lower East Side y el East Village, y también es copresidenta del grupo de trabajo del censo en el concejo municipal.

Menin dijo que la ciudad había respondido con “anuncios súper especializados. Lo bueno de muchos de nuestros anuncios, particularmente los anuncios digitales, es que podemos cambiarlos muy rápido. Podemos ver cuáles realmente están teniendo respuesta.” Por ejemplo, una campaña publicitaria denominada "Doubled Up" intentó disipar dudas sobre situaciones irregulares de vivienda mediante mensajes como "¿Vive en el sótano? Sí, el censo es para usted,” en idiomas como español, bengalí, nepalí, ruso y urdu. Este tipo de mensaje debe ser transmitido idealmente por mensajeros locales de confianza, lo que requiere una confluencia de esfuerzos entre la ciudad y las comunidades para obtener resultados óptimos.

Aparte de los temores a que información individual llegue a las autoridades de inmigración, a algunos les preocupa que incluso la información general sobre distintos vecindarios se use para ese mismo propósito, particularmente por una administración que no ha dudado en amenazar con redadas. Lorena Kourousias, directora ejecutiva de la Organización Mixteca, con sede en Sunset Park, dijo que había hablado con varios residentes locales que expresaron alguna versión de: “Si yo respondo, si todos respondemos, ellos sabrán que todos los mexicanos viven en esta manzana.” (La información, por ley, no se puede compartir con ICE, y los datos públicamente disponibles no serían lo suficientemente detallados como para ser utilizados para aplicar la ley migratoria).

Luego existe el problema del aislamiento. La pandemia del COVID-19 cerró la ciudad en casi todos los sentidos, y mientras que muchas comunidades latinas se vieron especialmente afectadas por el virus por no haber podido aislarse y tener que seguir trabajando, las actividades comunitarias más sociales se extinguieron. Todos los foros, las operaciones de alcance en persona y los días de acción que se habían planeado se volvieron imposibles casi de la noche a la mañana. La organización comunitaria pasó a ser en línea, pero esta metodología ha tenido distintos grados de efectividad, a pesar de que últimamente se ha empezado a reanudar de forma limitada en persona.

“Le pusimos mucho esfuerzo a las redes sociales. Pero somos conscientes de que muchos de los miembros de la comunidad que no respondieron [al censo] ni siquiera están en las redes sociales, y esas comunidades quedaron excluidas,” dijo Kourousias. Se necesitan voces de confianza dentro de la comunidad para convencer a la gente de que es seguro completar el censo, y la comunidad está más acostumbrada a tener esas interacciones en persona.

Antonio Alarcón, coordinador del censo para la gran organización de servicios sociales Make the Road (otra beneficiaria del CCF), relató hablar con un grupo de personas que estaban esperando en una fila para la distribución de alimentos. Para algunos de los que dijeron que no habían completado el censo, “fue porque perdieron el acceso al internet durante [la pandemia]. Otros decían, ‘no tengo acceso a una computadora en casa’, o ‘no sé cómo usar una computadora.” El censo no tiene que ser completado en línea (se puede llenar el formulario en papel o hablar con los encuestadores), pero para una persona que no va a ninguna parte excepto quizás al trabajo, y que no está usando la web, las avenidas para contactarla son limitadas.

El gobierno municipal respondió a estos desafíos de covid modificando la estructura de su programa de becas para permitir la extensión de los contratos e incorporar otras formas de comunicarse con poblaciones aisladas. “Se suponía que los beneficiarios de las becas no podían usar fondos para comprar anuncios. Una de las cosas que hicieron justo después de que comenzó la pandemia y la cuarentena fue permitir a los beneficiarios usar el dinero para publicidad,” dijo Juan Rosa, director de participación cívica en el área noreste del Fondo de Educación NALEO. Señaló como ejemplo al Centro de Artes y Educación Casita María en El Bronx, que empezó a mostrar comerciales sobre el censo por Univisión.

Sin embargo, no todos sienten que los funcionarios municipales han respondido con la suficiente creatividad a las cambiantes circunstancias. Haydée Zambrana, fundadora de Latin Women in Action con sede en Corona, dijo que su organización había intentado obtener sin éxito fondos del CCF en el período inicial de solicitudes, y que los funcionarios deberían haber reevaluado las distribuciones cuando quedó claro que algunas áreas, como Corona, eran a la vez las más afectadas por la pandemia y las más rezagadas en el censo.

“Sigo ayudando, sigo trabajando, sigo hablando con quien pueda. Estoy llamando a mi gente, enviando mensajes de texto y todo eso, y no me pagan,” dijo Zambrana, quien sugirió que habrían sido más efectivas las subvenciones dirigidas directamente a pequeños medios comunitarios en lugar de costosos y llamativos anuncios en los grandes medios. “Tenemos tantos canales, tantos pequeños periódicos, y si les hubiesen pagado 400 dólares a cada uno... hubieran tenido un impacto. El mensaje se habría transmitido mejor.”

Según Menin, la decisión de establecer los beneficiarios desde el principio fue la correcta. “Teníamos nuestros contratos en diciembre, muchas de nuestras organizaciones habían comenzado a trabajar en la calle en enero y febrero, y ese trabajo ahora realmente está dando sus frutos. Si hubiéramos esperado a realizar las subvenciones hasta el comienzo del mismo censo, estaríamos siempre atrasados,” dijo, e indicó que la ciudad no solo está trabajando con los beneficiarios del CCF. “Nos asociamos con cientos y cientos y cientos de otros grupos que no son beneficiarios directos. Nos asociamos con miles de lugares de culto, nos asociamos con sindicatos, nos asociamos con juntas comunitarias, organizaciones cívicas, oficiales electos.”

Hasta cierto punto, todas las comunidades latinas en la ciudad lidian con asuntos de vivienda irregular, inmigración, falta de acceso a Internet y los estragos de la pandemia. El nivel de coordinación y alcance del existente ecosistema de organizaciones comunitarias, así como las diferencias intrínsecas entre estas comunidades, es esencial para entender las tasas de participación.

En Washington Heights e Inwood, áreas que también tuvieron excelentes tasas de auto-respuesta durante el censo de 2010, diferentes tipos de organizaciones comunitarias establecieron procesos complementarios e integraron mensajes sobre el censo tanto a sus operaciones habituales como a los programas que surgieron específicamente en respuesta a la crisis del COVID-19. “Ha sido una gran asociación para la comunidad, lo cual obviamente nos ayuda a alcanzar a más personas, porque si es alguien a quien no conocemos personalmente como cliente, entonces una de esas [otras] organizaciones puede que lo conozca y podemos aprovecharnos eso,” dijo María Guzmán-Colón, gerente de proyectos especiales del Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation.

Rosa, de NALEO, asumió el rol de coordinar a las distintas organizaciones en esos barrios. “Unimos a la gente. Teníamos cadenas de correos electrónicos con las que nos manteníamos todos al tanto,” dijo. “Logramos cubrir varias partes y grupos de la comunidad.”

La misma fortaleza de las organizaciones comunitarias entre grupos de población particulares fue a veces suficiente para superar las adversidades. En el Lower East Side, zonas a lo largo del East River con grandes proyectos de NYCHA que albergan a muchos residentes latinos mayores de edad y con bajos ingresos — exactamente el perfil demográfico que los estudios muestran como el más difícil de alcanzar y el que tiene menos probabilidades de responder al censo masivamente — han tenido muy buenos resultados, con algunas tasas de auto-respuesta de alrededor del 75%. El secreto de este éxito fue, según la gerente de Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Marielle Villar Martiney, que la organización llamó a todos los residentes de tercera edad en su base de datos, la cual tomó años construir.

“Empezamos con: '¿Teme que le desalojen? ¿Está enfermo? ¿Necesita ayuda con la comida? ¿Ha llenado su censo?’ Eso ha sido realmente exitoso porque, si bien el censo es increíblemente importante, cuando uno está luchando por poner comida en la mesa, el censo puede parecer algo lejano,” dijo. Lo mismo sucedió en el norte de Manhattan, donde Guzmán-Colón explicó que el NMIC ayudaba a los miembros de la comunidad con varios problemas urgentes y luego hacía un seguimiento por separado sobre el tema del censo, una vez ganada la confianza.

La idea de una campaña unificada también ha funcionado en el Lower East Side. “El Lower East Side siempre ha sido una comunidad realmente bien organizada, y tenemos dos líderes distritales que son súper activos,” dijo Andrea Gordillo, directora de desarrollo del Centro Clemente Soto Vélez. El centro no recibió ningún financiamiento municipal para el censo y no estableció programas específicamente para el mismo, pero aún así se involucró con el mayor esfuerzo comunitario. “Todos trabajamos juntos de manera informal. Tenemos distintas redes informales,” dijo Gordillo.

Es una metodología bastante simple, pero funciona. “Nos hemos tenido que esforzar en cómo replicar eso en algunas de las áreas que no tienen esas asociaciones de inquilinos o asociaciones cívicas que han estado trabajando por tanto tiempo en cómo aumentar esos números,” dijo Melva Miller, directora ejecutiva y coordinadora de la iniciativa del censo para el grupo empresarial Association for a Better New York.

Sin embargo, del dicho al hecho hay un largo trecho, y la campaña fue mucho más sencilla en áreas donde ya existía una red de grupos comunitarios bien desarrollada. Consideremos la dicotomía entre Jackson Heights y Corona; mientras que la discrepancia puede parecer extraña en teoría, la mayoría de las personas con las que habló Gotham Gazette no se sorprendieron. “Jackson Heights como vecindario está organizado, punto. Además, está organizado de una manera diferente a algunos de los vecindarios circundantes que también se vieron muy afectados [por covid],” dijo Mayano, de Queens Community House. "Siempre ha habido una especie de red coordinada de organizaciones que tienen cada una su nicho, que logra acercarse a los más marginados de la comunidad sin superponer sus esfuerzos.”

Se suele reducir las comunidades latinas a un monolito, pero claramente no es así, y las distinciones socio-económicas y culturales tienen un papel importante. “Dentro de la comunidad en Corona o Sunset Park hay más personas que alquilan una sola habitación, que viven en apartamentos abarrotados y no quieren que eso se sepa,” dijo Kourousias. “Si quieres vivir en Williamsburg o en Park Slope, los alquileres son más altos que en Sunset Park. Puede que la comunidad también sea latina, pero el acceso a recursos económicos es menor.”

La situación está evolucionando a medida que la ciudad continúa su proceso gradual de apertura y el tipo de organización y alcance en persona que se había planeado originalmente se ha ido reanudando. A principios de septiembre, GOLES y otras organizaciones marcharon alrededor del Lower East Side y el East Village al ritmo de tambores, entregando volantes de concienciación sobre el censo a los transeúntes. Mixteca ha instalado mesas al frente de los reabiertos restaurantes de comida mexicana y latina, y ha contratado a algunos hablantes de lenguas indígenas para que ayuden a otros a completar la encuesta. La Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation celebró un día de acción.

“Creo que realmente ha habido un aumento en las tasas de algunos de estos vecindarios rezagados ahora que pudimos comenzar a hacer eventos en persona, mezclando la campaña del Censo con la distribución de equipos de protección personal y de alimentos, pudiendo tener actividades al aire libre y brindar información sobre la reapertura de las escuelas y otros servicios esenciales,” dijo Miller de ABNY.

Después de algunas demoras, el gobierno estatal también distribuyó este año millones de dólares en fondos para el censo, que se están usando para impulsar una operación de alcance de última hora. En la marcha del Lower East Side, la presidente del condado de Manhattan, Gale Brewer, dijo: “Sólo recientemente recibimos nuestro dinero del gobernador y ya se lo entregamos a treinta grupos aquí en Manhattan,” incluidos algunos de los grupos representados en la marcha.

Actualmente, se prevé que el conteo termine a fines de septiembre, aunque un litigio busca extenderlo hasta fines de octubre (algo que ya se había anunciado a principios de este año, hasta que la administración cambió de opinión), lo que le daría a la ciudad y a las organizaciones comunitarias más tiempo para generar más respuestas con su estrategia en persona.

Menin dijo que Nueva York, comparada con otras grandes áreas urbanas, ha visto en las últimas semanas el mayor aumento en las tasas de auto-respuesta, como resultado de la reanudación de esta estrategia. “Eso es lo que necesitábamos, y lo que no pudimos hacer cuando comenzó el censo. Y es por eso que queremos disponer también de octubre, porque lo necesitamos. Recortarle un mes al censo es realmente inconcebible”, dijo. Irónicamente, grandes porciones de los vecindarios más ricos de Manhattan, a lo largo de Central Park y el downtown, han registrado tasas muy bajas, aparentemente en parte debido a que los habitantes acomodados abandonaron la ciudad durante la pandemia.

Organizadores como Zambrana, del grupo Mujeres Latinas en Acción en Corona, tienen aún mucho trabajo. Su mensaje es directo: "Si no quieres que te quiten la voz, tienes que completar el censo. Y no es para mí, es para ti y tu familia y el futuro de tus hijos.”

Por Felipe De La Hoz para Gotham Gazette.

Carlos Rodríguez, un periodista autónomo, editó esta traducción al español.

This article was also published in English. Carlos Rodriguez, a freelance journalist, edited this Spanish translation.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Respuestas Al Censo Varían Bastante Entre Las Comunidades Latinas De La Ciudad Sun, 27 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Census Response Rates Vary Widely Among City's Latino Communities Census rally Brooklyn

Census march in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

This story has also been published in Spanish - find that version here. Esta historia también ha sido publicada en español, encuéntrala aquí.

The once-a-decade Census count, nearing its scheduled conclusion, has had to contend with quite a lot in New York City. A once-in-a-century pandemic torched the carefully laid out outreach plans and unleashed cascading social and economic effects, threatening the accuracy of numbers that are used at every level of government and the private sector for planning, allocation of funds, and both state and federal government representation. The Trump administration has gone to great lengths to muddy the waters and depress participation in low-income and immigrant strongholds, having tried and failed to both add a citizenship question to the form and exclude undocumented immigrants from the Congressional apportionment count.

Throughout New York City, which as of September 21 had a 2020 Census self-response rate of 60.2 percent (four points under its ultimate 2010 self-response rate), these challenging conditions have been varyingly deterministic in areas with major Latino populations, which by-and-large were hit the hardest by the coronavirus and have deep-seated fear of a clearly hostile federal bureaucracy. According to the Census Bureau’s own data, derived from its American Community Survey and other sources, the city’s population of 8.34 million was, as of last year, 29 percent Hispanic or Latino, about 2.4 million individuals described as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin.”

An analysis prepared by SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government looking at areas with undercounts unsurprisingly found that being Hispanic, of limited English proficiency, a renter, foreign born, and with no internet, among other characteristics, were risk factors for being undercounted in the Census. The particularities of the Trump administration’s unique focus on immigration only added to the likelihood that communities with a high number of foreign-born residents, as is the case with many of New York City’s Latino populations, would not feel comfortable participating in the count.

As shown in mapping done by the CUNY Graduate Center's Urban Research Center, some areas, such the large Dominican and Puerto Rican communities in the upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood, have had strong response rates, with almost every single census tract in those neighborhoods outperforming the city average, and several see self-response rates above 70%. Others, like the Mexican and Ecuadorian enclaves in Sunset Park, Brooklyn have lagged, with only a couple tracts even reaching the city average, and most falling to percentages in the mid-to-low fifties or even forties. Overall, the lowest-participating predominantly Latino neighborhoods also include Corona and North Corona, Queens, and Cypress Hills and East New York, Brooklyn, while the highest-participation rates also include Jackson Heights, Queens, the Lower East Side and Alphabet City, Manhattan, and Morris Heights, in the Bronx.

As census enumerators fan out across the city in the final stage of the count to knock on doors and encourage participation, it’s essential to examine what has gone right and wrong in these areas, how efforts by city government and local organizations to drive participation have fared, and what could shift in the final weeks. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who put significant city resources into the Census this year, has been stressing participation at his near-daily briefings and knocking on a few doors himself, while his team has targeted many communities with lackluster participation, including Corona, Jamaica, East New York, and Canarsie. The city’s key goals, de Blasio has said, are to lift self-response percentages as high as possible, while matching the national response rate, which was 66.2 percent as of September 21. While the Trump administration tried to shorten the covid-extended 2020 Census timeline so it would conclude at the end of September, on September 24 a judge ruled that it must continue through October as previously announced. 

According to data provided by the city’s census office, of 398 neighborhoods estimated to be primarily (over 50 percent) Latino, the Census response rates as of September 15 were on average 58 percent, just under the city’s total self-response rate of about 60 percent. Broken down by census tract, the numbers vary wildly, though, with notable differences even among tracts that, on the surface level, seem somewhat similar. In one stark example, there are census tracts with completion percentages in the low forties in parts of Corona, Queens, among the lowest in Latino-heavy areas. The adjacent neighborhood of Jackson Heights, however, has some tracts that are among the highest-performing, with rates in the mid-seventies.

Julie Menin, the director of the city’s census office, said that the city was on a good track, particularly in light of its unfortunate place as the epicenter of a global pandemic. “In 2010, the city was 14 points behind the national self-response rate. Right now, we’re six points behind the national response rate. And we keep closing the gap more and more every week,” she said. Menin acknowledged that it had been difficult to reach some Latino communities, faulting the Trump administration for the various obstacles it has thrown in the way, but said that the city had been working creatively to address the issues by, for example, using absentee ballot data to hyper-target efforts at under-performing areas and hiring a dedicated outreach staff.

Conversations with community groups and officials around the city point to a few key factors that have played a role in self-response rates in the city’s Latino communities, including the robustness and organization of local groups, socio-economic and cultural differences among neighborhoods, the prevalence of irregular housing situations, access to technology, and the effectiveness of the city’s interventions.

For example, while the sort of complicated and informal living arrangements characteristic to dense urban areas and New York City in particular have often been discussed as a point of difficulty for Census Bureau officials planning their enumeration strategies, it can often also be an impediment to people responding once they’ve been reached.

“There were a lot of and still are a lot of questions about who fills it out, who do they include on the Census, will it flag something for the landlord or the management?” said Anna Dioguardi Mayano, director of community building at Queens Community House, which was a recipient of city funding through the Complete Count Fund. “Yes, there's a lot of fear about revealing immigration status. But sometimes even more so, there’s fear about revealing these housing situations, that they fear could cause problems for them, or just confusion.” If, for example, two families and a single person all share an apartment, are they all supposed to respond, or just one family in the household? How many people are in their “household”? (Every person in a household must be counted, one person can fill out the Census for the household.)

Others have remained uncertain about their eligibility and how the count intersects with their immigration status -- there are an estimated 520,000 undocumented immigrants residing in New York City, all of whom should be counted in the Census. Federal policy can often be filtered down to the city’s Latino populations in an extensive game of telephone, with details getting lost or warped along the way. The specter of the citizenship question has been misshapen into the frustratingly persistent myth that only U.S. citizens are expected to participate in the count at all, in addition to the related concerns that the information given can be used for immigration enforcement purposes.

“I was just in a development right now, where I was speaking to mostly Latinos, a large Dominican community there, and a large Chinese speaking community, and many of them had not filled out the Census. We asked them why, and they said because they’re not citizens,” said City Council Member Carlina Rivera, who represents a section of Manhattan including the Lower East Side and the East Village and is co-chair of the Council’s census task force.

Menin said that the city had responded to these issues with “super targeted ads. The great thing about a lot of our ads, particularly the digital ads, is we can switch them out really quickly. So we can see which ads are resonating.” For example, an ad campaign dubbed “Doubled Up” attempted to assuage doubts about irregular housing situations by running messages like “Live in the basement? Yes, the census is for you,” in languages including Spanish, Bangla, Nepali, Russian, and Urdu. These types of messages are optimally conveyed by trusted local messengers, requiring a confluence of city and community efforts for best outcomes.

Aside from the concern that individual information will be passed on to immigration enforcement, some are worried that the general neighborhood data could still be used for that purpose, particularly by an administration that hasn’t been shy about threatening raids. Lorena Kourousias, the executive director of the Sunset Park-based Mixteca Organization, said she had spoken to several local residents who had said some version of “If I answer, if we all answer, then they are going to know that all the Mexicans live on this block.” (The information by law cannot be shared with ICE, and the public data is not granular enough to be used for enforcement.)

Then there is the problem of isolation. The COVID-19 pandemic shut the city down in almost every respect, and while a lot of Latino communities were hit especially hard by the virus partly as a result of not being able to isolate and having to continue going to work in person, the more social type of community activity died down. All of the forums and door-knocking and days of action that had been planned were rendered impossible almost overnight. The organizing moved online, but this approach has had varying degrees of effectiveness, though it eventually resumed to a limited extent in person.

“We went really hard on social media. But we are aware that many of the community members that didn't respond [to the Census] are not even on social media, and those communities were left out,” said Kourousias. It takes trusted community voices for people to accept that it is safe to fill out the Census, and people are more used to having those interactions in person.

Antonio Alarcón, census coordinator at the large immigration and social services organization Make the Road (another CCF recipient), recounted talking to a group of people waiting in line for food distribution. For some of those who said they hadn’t filled out the Census, “it was because they had lost access to the internet during [the pandemic]. Others were like ‘well, I don't have access to a computer at home,’ or ‘I don't know how to use a computer.” The Census doesn’t require the internet to complete (paper surveys and talking to enumerators are other options), but for someone who is not going anywhere but work (or anywhere at all) and who isn’t using the web, the avenues for outreach are limited.

New York City government responded to the challenges of covid by modifying the structure of its grants program to allow for contracts to be extended and incorporate other ways to reach the isolated. “The grantees were not supposed to use money on advertisements. And one of the things that they did right after covid hit and we went to quarantine was allow the partners to switch dollars over to advertisements,” said Juan Rosa, Northeast Director of Civic Engagement for the NALEO Education Fund. He pointed to the Casita María Center For Arts & Education in the Bronx, which was running some Census-related commercials on Univisión.

Yet not everyone feels that the city’s census officials have responded creatively enough to changing data and circumstances on the ground. Haydée Zambrana, founder of the Corona-based Latin Women in Action, said her organization had sought but not received CCF funding in the initial application period, but officials should have reevaluated as it became clear that some areas, like Corona, were both hard hit by the pandemic and lagging in response rates.

“I'm still helping, I'm still working, I'm still talking to whoever I can. I'm calling out to my people, sending texts and whatnot, and I'm not getting paid,” Zambrana said, and suggested that allocations directly targeting small outlets instead of flashy ad spends would have been more effective. “We have so many channels, so many little newspapers, and if they would have paid them four hundred bucks each... they would have gotten somewhere. The message would have gone home.”

Menin said it was the right call to establish the grantees early on. “We had our contracts in December, so many of our organizations did work on the ground in January and February, and that work is now really paying off. Because if we would have waited to do the grants until the Census starts, then you're always behind the eight ball,” she said, and pointed out that the city wasn’t only working with CCF grantees. “We partner with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other groups that are not our grantees. We're partnering with thousands of houses of worship, we partner with labor unions, we partner with community boards, civic organizations, elected officials.”

To an extent, every Latino community around the city deals with issues around irregular housing, immigration, lack of internet access, and the ravages of the pandemic. The level of coordination and reach by the existing ecosystem of community organizations, as well as differences among these communities, is key to how Census participation plays out.

In Washington Heights and Inwood, areas that also saw a robust response rate in the 2010 Census, community organizations of different stripes made sure to establish complementary processes, and integrate Census messaging into both their regular operations and programs specifically responsive to the health crisis. “It's just been a big partnership in the community, which helps us obviously reach more people, because if it's someone that we don't personally know as a client, then one of those [other] organizations might know them and we can tap them that way,” said María Guzmán-Colón, special projects manager at the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation.

Rosa, of NALEO, took on the role of coordinating among the various groups in those neighborhoods. “We brought people together. We had joint email threads keeping each other abreast,” he said. “Various parts and various constituencies in the community were being covered.”

Existing community groups’ strengths with particular constituencies were sometimes enough to overcome steep obstacles. On the Lower East Side, tracts along the East River with large NYCHA developments housing many older, lower-income Latino residents—exactly the sort of demographic the research shows is harder to reach and less likely to respond to the Census in large numbers—have been performing quite well, with some tracts reaching response rates in the mid-to-high 70s. The secret to success was that, according to Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) senior manager Marielle Villar Martiney, the organization called every senior in its database, which it had spent years building.

“We will start with, ‘are you facing eviction? Are you sick? Do you need help with food? Have you filled out your Census?’ That has been really successful because, while the Census is incredibly important, when you're struggling to put food on your table, the Census can seem far away,” she said. It was the same in northern Manhattan, where Guzmán-Colón said NMIC would assist community members with various pressing issues and then separately follow up about the Census, with trust already built.

The notion of an all-hands approach has worked on the Lower East Side, too. “The Lower East Side has always been like a really organized community and we have two district leaders that are super active,” said Andrea Gordillo, the director of development for the Clemente Soto Vélez Center. The center did not receive any Census funding and wasn’t running specific Census programs per se, but still got involved with the broader community push. “We all sort of work together in informal ways. We have different informal networks,” Gordillo said.

It’s a simple enough methodology, but it works. “We have really tried to figure out how to replicate that in some of the areas that don't have those natural tenants associations or civic associations that have been doing work to bring those numbers up,” said Melva Miller, the chief executive of the business group Association for a Better New York, where she has run its 2020 Census efforts.

That’s easier said than done, though, and the going was much easier for areas where a well-developed network already existed. Take the Jackson Heights/Corona dichotomy; whereas the discrepancy could seem puzzling on paper, most people Gotham Gazette spoke with seemed unsurprised. “Jackson Heights as a neighborhood is just organized, period, and organized in a different way than some of the surrounding neighborhoods that were also really hard hit [by covid],” said Queens Community House’s Mayano. “There's always been kind of a coordinated network of organizations that have their niche, to reach the most marginalized in the community without overlapping.”

While there’s often a tendency to reduce Latino communities to a monolith, they clearly are not, and both socio-economic and cultural distinctions play a role. “The community in Corona or in Sunset Park, are more people that rent a room, they live in crowded apartments, and they don't want others to know that,” said Kourousias. “If you want to live in Williamsburg or Park Slope, the rents are higher than in Sunset Park. So the community may also be Latino, but the access to their economic resources are lower.”

Things may be shifting as the city continues its gradual process of opening back up and the sort of in-person organizing originally planned has resumed in some form. In early September, GOLES and other groups marched around the Lower East Side and the East Village with a drum line, handing out Census awareness flyers to passersby. Mixteca will be setting up tables outside of reopened Mexican and Latin food restaurants, and has hired some indigenous language speakers to walk people through filling out the Census survey. The Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation held a day of action.

“I think there's really been an uptick in numbers in some of those lagging neighborhoods once we were able to start to do in-person events, mixing Census outreach with PPE distribution and food distribution, being able to bring activities outdoors, to provide information about school reopening, and other essential services,” said ABNY’s Miller.

After some delays, the state government also this year distributed millions of dollars in dedicated Census funding, which can be used to drive a big last-mile in-person outreach operation. At the Lower East Side Census march, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said, “only recently, we took our money from the governor and we gave it out quickly to thirty groups in Manhattan,” including some of those represented at the march.

The September 24 court ruling, which the Trump administration is likely to appeal, could give the city and the community organizations further runway to drive responses with an in-person strategy.

Menin said that New York, in the context of other large urban areas, has in recent weeks seen the greatest jumpthe greatest jump in self-response rates as a result of resuming in-person outreach. “That's what we needed, that we weren't able to do when the census began. And that's why we wish we had October, because we need it. You know, to cut the census sort by one month, it's unconscionable,” she said. Somewhat ironically, large chunks of wealthier Manhattan neighborhoods along Central Park and downtown have had very poor response rates, presumably in part due to well-off inhabitants skipping town during the pandemic.

People like Zambrana, of the Corona group Latin Women in Action, have their work cut out. She’s delivering a consistent message: “If you don't want your voice to be taken away, you have to fill out the Census. And it is not for me, it's for you and your family and the future of your children.”

[This story has also been published in Spanish - find that version here. Esta historia también ha sido publicada en español, encuéntrala aquí.]

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated to reflect the 9/24/20 court ruling to re-extend the 2020 Census count through October.

Census Response Rates Vary Widely Among City's Latino Communities Tue, 22 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Participation in the Census is The Most Powerful Thing The Latino Community Can Do Right Now 2 pat march

Latino lawmakers & others getting out the 2020 Census count (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

In this unsettling and disturbing time of high uncertainty and racially-motivated hate, one of the most important -- and easiest -- ways Americans can ensure their own protection is by completing the census. When brown Americans fill out the census, it is an act of protest. Even in 2020, many still believe filling out the census is as though we are taking what isn’t ours, and that is exactly the point. As residents of this country, we have a right to take advantage of the federal resources that our taxes pay for, but we won’t get them unless we are counted.

When President Trump says he is concerned with undocumented people filling out the census, he isn’t talking about Canadians sneaking into our country, he is talking about those of us who have every right to complete this 10-question, 10-minute form. His language aims to intimidate my fellow Latino neighbors from our constitutional right to being counted. Participation in the census is the most powerful thing we can do to ignore the fear-mongering, xenophobia, and hate.

In the 2010 census, just 50.5 million people responded as Hispanic, hugely misrepresenting the United States’ population of 59.9 million Latino citizens. The George Washington Institute for Public Policy found that an incomplete census form denies an individual $4,000 in social services. Latino Americans have missed out on $37.6 billion in federal funding over the past 10 years due to incomplete and inaccurate census data.

While white people are overcounted in the census by 1%, Latinos are historically undercounted, due to a number of barriers including language, education, and immigrant status. These barriers aren’t worth remediating to a government that was created for, by, and of white people. Overcoming these intentionally exclusionary systems protects Latino people’s constitutional rights. While failure to fill out the census threatens Latino voices in Congress, limits access to Medicaid and food stamps, and prevents Latinos from reaping the benefits of investment in infrastructure, schools, public works projects, and more.

St. Francis College is one of the most diverse private colleges in the nation. Of our 2,292 undergraduates, 28% self-identified as Hispanic. We are committed to serving all of our students with the highest standard of care and respect, regardless of what harmful and hateful rhetoric and systemic oppression marginalizes our non-white students. We instill in our students the importance of being vocal and active in their communities, inside the classroom and beyond, and involvement in the census is a key component.

We are committed to teaching civic duty as well as academics. As part of this work St. Francis College has been encouraging students and community members to take advantage of their right to be counted this year, setting up events that include census and voter registration tables to drive up numbers and encourage students to take what they are rightfully owed, and to demand our country’s representation truly represents us.

President Trump announced in July that the census will be ending earlier than previously planned, a move that serves no purpose other than to limit brown people from being counted and accessing our rights. We, students and faculty of St. Francis College and beyond, must protest and reject this exclusionary and hateful move by taking the 10 minutes required to be counted in the census. Do it today at

Every person in the United States -- not just every citizen, every resident -- has the right to be counted and considered. This is our country, too. Let’s ensure we are part of the count.

Miguel Marinez-Saenz is President of St. Francis College. On Twitter @SFCNY.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Participation in the Census is The Most Powerful Thing The Latino Community Can Do Right Now Mon, 14 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Crunch Time for New York Census Count as September 30 Deadline Looms and Numbers Lag 3 census app research

A pre-pandemic Census press conference (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

With less than a month left till the U.S. Census Bureau intends to end its constitutionally-mandated decennial population count, elected officials and advocates issued a dire warning to New Yorkers on Tuesday to fill out the Census questionnaire or risk losing crucial funding for a raft of federal programs as well as political representation in Congress.

Last month, the Trump administration moved up the deadline for the 2020 Census from October 31 to September 30, leaving the Census Bureau and local and state officials scrambling to ensure an accurate count, which has already been thrown into jeopardy by the coronavirus pandemic. The Census Bureau currently has enumerators out in the field attempting to count those households that have not self-responded through the online portal or by mail.

As of August 31, the nationwide response rate to the Census was 64.9%, according to the CUNY Mapping Service’s Census tracking project; New York State’s response rate was 61% and New York City’s was 57.7%. Census data is used to determine many billions of dollars in funding to states and localities and seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

At a Tuesday news conference, New York elected officials and Census advocates raised concerns about the state’s response lagging behind the nation and the detrimental effects that could have over the next decade. The Census count determines how the federal government distributes funds for everything from education and health care to infrastructure, transit, and a range of social welfare programs. It also forms the basis for drawing electoral districts at the local, state, and congressional levels and New York, with it’s already declining population, stands to lose as many as two seats in the House due to an undercount in the Census.

As U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pointed out at the news conference, New York receives more than $73 billion in federal funds annually for 55 programs, out of a $1.5 trillion pot.

“We need that funding to respond to this pandemic and prepare for the next one,” she said, noting that the state could lose money for Medicaid, maternal health, housing assistance, among other programs. “The federal government won't know how much our communities should get if they don't know how many people live there,” she added. Gillibrand has joined with Democratic and Republican Congressional representatives to call on the Trump administration to extend the deadline for delivering Census data and has pushed for that provision to be included in any potential stimulus package that is approved by Congress.

“The Census is more important than ever amidst the ongoing pandemic, which has already badly harmed our state and city budgets and has laid bare many of the inequities that currently exist in our communities,” said U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “If we don't get an accurate count, this will only be made worse.”

The Trump administration’s move to shift the deadline has also been challenged in court and, on Tuesday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed an amicus brief in that case on behalf of a coalition of 23 attorneys general, five cities, four counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“An undercount would skew state and local representation when the districts are redrawn and federal funding could be drawn off and decreased for many urban areas with large immigrant populations like New York City,” James said at the news conference. “This could affect our roads, our bridges, our schools, the number of first responders we have in our communities and so much more. And while each of these situations are on face value costly, it's important to note that what is at stake is so much more than just numbers. It's about the people who will be adversely impacted by these numbers.”

What makes the Census particularly challenging in New York is the number of hard-to-count communities that tend to not participate in the Census or that are often miscounted. That includes immigrants, low- and middle-income Black communities, Native Americans, seniors, children under the age of five, people with limited English proficiency and non-English speakers, among others.

President Donald Trump has also taken several steps that seemed geared towards discouraging participation. His administration unsuccessfully attempted to place a citizenship question on the Census and underfunded the Census Bureau. On July 21, Trump also issued a memo to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, ordering that undocumented immigrants be excluded from state populations for the apportionment of congressional representatives. That order has been challenged in court.

“Under the Trump administration, the Census has become about fear and misinformation,” said Meeta Anand, the Census 2020 senior fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition, at Tuesday’s news conference.

Recognizing those many challenges, city officials are in the midst of a concerted $40 million Census outreach campaign and recently launched a home-stretch effort, particularly to target areas where the response has been far lower than other parts of the city.

Led by Census Director Julie Menin, appointed to the role by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city launched a massive ad campaign across 26 languages, more than 175 publications and websites covering radio, television, social media. City Census workers have made more than 3.5 million phone calls and sent more than 7 million texts about the Census, getting more than 423,000 New Yorkers to fill out the questionnaire, the city Census office said.

“Let's be clear what this fight is about. It's an insidious political ploy to defund cities like New York, to have us lose congressional representation and move that funding and congressional representation to Red Republican districts all across the country,” Menin said Tuesday.

The city is also attempting to reach the thousands of New Yorkers who left the city during the pandemic but who requested absentee ballots for the recent primary elections. Many of them completed the Census using their temporary addresses, which would require them to re-fill the questionnaire, which takes roughly 10 minutes, to be counted as New York residents.

At the state level, Governor Andrew Cuomo re-launched some semblance of Census outreach efforts at the end of July after months of inaction. The state was originally pledged to put $70 million toward the Census, including grants to community outreach groups and the reallocation of state agency resources, but the Cuomo administration did not follow through, in part, it has indicated, due to the budget crunch resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of a recent “Census Push Week,” the state said it was partnering with Spanish-language media outlets to conduct phone-banking, while several public-facing state agencies such as the MTA and Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services rolled out awareness initiatives of their own. There has been little additional news, however. A request for comment to Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency that is overseeing the Census effort, went unanswered.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Crunch Time for New York Census Count as September 30 Deadline Looms and Numbers Lag Tue, 01 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Re-Launches State Census Efforts gov cuomo vote

Governor Cuomo at a Census conference early this year (photo: governor's office)

After months of relative silence about the ongoing 2020 Census count and with New York at risk of a large and costly undercount, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday re-launched a state effort to urge New Yorkers to fill out the once-a-decade federal questionnaire.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned the 2020 Census on its head, forcing officials at the city, state, and federal levels to reconsider outreach plans and pivot awareness campaigns. The self-response deadline was extended from July 31 to October 31. The federal Census Bureau has since resumed limited field operations in several parts of New York and New York City officials have continued a robust alternative program to reach city residents through phone- and text-banking, a multimedia ad campaign, and more.

As of July 28, about 58.3% of New Yorkers across the state had filled out the Census, according to the CUNY Mapping Service’s census tracking project, compared to a 62.6% response rate nationwide.

The state effort lagged behind significantly even before the coronavirus outbreak in New York, and the governor’s announcement was the first major step since the pandemic hit the state. In a statement, Cuomo announced “Census Push Week” and emphasized the “absolutely critical” need for people to fill out the population questionnaire, which affects the level of federal funding the state receives and its electoral representation in Congress. With a loss of population over the last decade and a possible undercount, the state could lose as many as two seats in the House of Representatives.

“There's no doubt that COVID-19 has presented unprecedented obstacles to completing the Census,” Cuomo said. “However, the pandemic also highlights a key reason why the Census is so vital—New York State continues to seek substantial funding and aid from the federal government. I urge every New Yorker to complete the Census, and remember, New York State can help if you encounter any issues along the way.”

Originally Cuomo had pledged a $70 million Census outreach effort, including $20 million allocated in last year’s budget that was meant to be awarded to community-based organizations for direct contact but never went out the door. The state’s budget woes from the pandemic could mean that money will never be allocated (even as another $10 million was added in the new state budget passed in early April), an issue that has outraged advocacy organizations who say the state dragged its feet for far too long. The other $40 million was to be spent via a reallocation of state resources whereby different agencies and offices would work to get out the count -- plans now said to be launching many months after being promised.

As part of the new effort announced on Tuesday, the state Office for New Americans will partner with El Diario and Telemundo to host a two-day phone banking event, primarily for Spanish speakers. The state is also partnering with the Association for a Better New York, a prominent business group, to promote the Census through two events on July 30 and August 10.

At the same time, state entities have taken steps to urge participation in the Census without holding in-person events, the governor’s office said. The MTA is advertising across its subway, bus, and rail systems; the Department of State is promoting the Census through Community Action Agencies; and the Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services is boosting awareness through its customer service phone line. The Department of Financial Services and Empire State Development are also spreading the word through their respective networks.

State and local officials are organizing a slew of other events this week to barnstorm hard-to-count neighborhoods where self-response rates have been historically low. The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio is already in the midst of a “Census Week of Action” this week, and as part of that the New York City Census office has signed up 500 volunteers and is holding public events every day till August 2, including in-person events across the five boroughs. In Brooklyn, State Senator Zellnor Myrie is organizing a Census March for Racial Justice on August 2 to raise awareness in communities that are falling behind in the count.

The Census questionnaire is roughly ten questions and can be filled out by one member of a household to include all residents of that household. It can be filled out online or by phone, and the Census Bureau has also mailed paper questionnaires to households that have not responded.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Re-Launches State Census Efforts Tue, 28 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Congressional Reps Release New Report Underscoring Importance of Complete NYC Census Count mayor rally elected

The Census count is ongoing, with high stakes (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Representatives Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) unveiled a report on Monday that shows the potential consequences of New York City being undercounted in the 2020 Census. The report comes as New York City continues to lag behind the nationwide response rate to the decennial questionnaire, although the city has gained ground in recent weeks.

As of Sunday, the national self-response rate stood at 61%, while New York City was at 52%. However, New York City’s 2020 response rate represents a 2% improvement from a month earlier and a 5% improvement from the city’s 2010 response rate at the same juncture. For the past month, New York City has outpaced the national self-response rate. Between May 12 and June 18, the national rate increased by 2.8%, but the city rate increased by 4.5%, according to the report from staff for the two long-serving Democrats.

“Today, we are calling on every New Yorker to respond to the Census. You can do it from the comfort of your home,” said Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, in a conference call announcing the release of the report. “You have the ability to help the future of our community and our city. All you need to do is fill out the Census form.”

The report, “It’s Time to Fill Out Your 2020 Census Form: Why a Complete Count is Essential for New York City,” comes from the staff of the House’s Oversight and Reform Committee, which Maloney chairs, and the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

The report highlights the potential consequences that an undercount could have for the federal funding New York City receives for education and jobs programs. The federal government allocates $1.5 trillion annually based on Census figures, for those types of programs and many others.

“Every facet of your life will be vastly impacted by an undercount of even one percent,” said Jeffries, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

The staff report warns that New York City is particularly vulnerable to being undercounted, as many groups typically undercounted by the Census reside in the city. Sixteen million people were undercounted nationally in the 2010 Census, but communities of color fared worst. African-Americans were undercounted by 2.1%, Hispanics by 1.5%, and Native-Americans and Native-Alaskans living on reservations were undercounted by 4.9%. Furthermore, 4.6% of children under the age of 5 were undercounted. The report expresses the fear that the undercount in 2020 could be even larger.

For New York City alone, an undercount of the same magnitude as 2010 for the 2020 Census would mean nearly 40,000 African-Americans, 33,000 Hispanics, 1,100 Asian-Americans, and 4,000 Native-Americans would be undercounted, totaling about 78,000 New Yorkers of color being undercounted.

Additionally, New York is also home to other communities at risk for being undercounted. About 57% of New York City residents live in hard-to-count communities, according to the report; 17% of New Yorkers do not have internet access, which makes them much more likely to be missed.

The city loses $2,295 in federal funding for each child that is undercounted, according to the report. For education alone, that would mean $7.3 million per year in lost funding if there was just a 1% undercount of New York City children. Maloney said that total was the “equivalent of all the textbooks a child needs for a school year” for 29,000 students in New York City.

Additionally, a 1% undercount would also mean $3.7 million per year in lost funding for job training centers and career counseling. The city loses $281 in potential federal funding for each low-income worker who goes uncounted in this year’s Census.

Maloney said that the Trump administration and Senate Republicans are currently standing in the way of an accurate Census count. “We regretfully have had to fight to get [Census Director] Steven Dillingham to discuss things with us,” she said, “it’s hard for us to make an assessment.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the U.S. Census Bureau’s field operations, Maloney and other Democrats have requested that Census deadlines be pushed back. While some deadlines have been moved, a further extension of the overall count was included in House Democrats’ latest stimulus proposal, the Heroes Act, which passed the House of Representatives, but has not been taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate as of yet. The bill would also require Dillingham to make monthly reports to Congress on the progress of the Census.

“This is so important because it shows why the Census matters to every community,” said Julie Menin, the director of New York City’s 2020 Census office, in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the report released by Maloney and Jeffries. “I think it’s important that people focus on the financial impact post-Covid.”

“We completely agree that it’s been very problematic,” Menin said of federal efforts. She cited the decrease in Census offices and door-knockers in the New York City area in 2020 compared to 2010, a decision made at the federal level.

Menin discussed the city’s wide-ranging efforts to inform New Yorkers about the Census, particularly in response to COVID-19. The city’s Census office has set up in-person outreach at food distribution sites and reached over 1.6 million New Yorkers through text-banking and phone-banking. Later this summer the city plans to launch 300 pop-up outreach centers to reach New Yorkers without internet access, a group particularly at risk of being undercounted.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Menin said that “if more people had filled out the Census in 2010, we would have had more money for our hospitals and Medicaid.” Referring to the crises at hand, she added, “this is not a time for people not to respond to the Census.”

The federal government extended the self-response period ending from August 31 to October 31 due to the pandemic.

Jeffries also did not mince words when describing the importance of the 2020 Census. “We need everyone to participate in the Census as if your life depends on it because your quality of life absolutely depends on it.”

[Read: U.S. Census Bureau Resumes Limited Field Operations in New York and NYC Continues Outreach While State Remains MIA]

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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Congressional Reps Release New Report Underscoring Importance of Complete NYC Census Count Wed, 24 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Coronavirus Ravaged New York's Budget and Made Your Census Participation More Important Than Ever appt julie dirce

New York City Census efforts (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

As the cost to confront COVID-19 grows each day, a severe fiscal fallout for New York’s state and city budgets becomes more of a certainty. And with steep cuts to government programs all but assured, we New Yorkers cannot overlook the significance of participating in this year’s Census. Consider this: New York’s recovery will depend on federal funding, and each person not counted can cost New York $3,054 critical to providing education, housing, transportation, and medical services in areas hit hard by COVID-19.

If New York City has the same low response rate that it did in 2010, it is likely that nearly 2.5 million people in New York City will not be counted in the self-response phase. This would equate to nearly $8 billion in lost federal funding, which happens to be about the projected shortfall in the city budget for this and next fiscal years. Representation in Congress is on the line, too. Because of a low count last Census, New York lost two seats in the House of Representatives.

With federal funding and equitable political representation critical to our recovery, the stakes of the Census couldn’t be higher. It is imperative that New Yorkers, especially those from historically undercounted immigrant and underserved communities, respond to the decennial count in droves. At the same time, the pandemic will make it even harder for some in these communities to participate.

As CEO of RiseBoro Community Partnership, a nonprofit that offers holistic services to meet community needs in Brooklyn, I know how structural racism and poverty often lead to marginalization. Brooklyn is notoriously the hardest-to-count county in all of New York. In the 2010 Census, Brooklyn had the lowest mail return rate in the country among counties with populations over 500,000. Approximately 80% of Brooklynites live in hard-to-count neighborhoods. 2020 is the year to buck that trend and ensure that low-income communities and people of color get fully counted.

States with the greatest number of people and highest concentrations of poverty receive proportionally greater amounts of federal aid than other states. Over 14% of the 19.5 million people living in New York State are below the poverty line. If underserved groups are not accurately represented in the Census, organizations like RiseBoro have a difficult time meeting the needs that exist in the communities they serve because of a lack of funding.

My organization is working in partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY), the mayor’s Census office, and the New York City Council to mobilize New Yorkers to self-respond to the 2020 Census. We received $250,000 to support a fair and complete count of Bushwick, Brownsville, and Crown Heights—three communities with poverty levels up to 40%.

The barriers to responding to the Census that these underserved communities faced in 2010 still exist today. There is limited English literacy; there are motives for concealment, such as undocumented status; and children under five and seniors are often undercounted. Brooklyn has the largest population of seniors and children under five in New York City.

Like most of the five boroughs, Brooklyn is a melting pot of cultures, and that is particularly true in Bushwick, Brownsville, and Crown Heights. In these communities the most common languages other than English are Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Residents typically rely on places like libraries and community centers to fill out the Census. With COVID-19 making that impossible, it’s up to community organizations to take the lead.

At RiseBoro, staff fluent in these languages are making calls to help people fill out their forms. With many in these communities concerned about their immigration status, being able to speak with someone in their own language is a way to put them at ease.

About 400,000 Brooklynites—15% of our borough’s total population—are not U.S. citizens. To every immigrant and person from an underserved community reading this, know that you are in no way in jeopardy of being deported because of your Census answers. Despite previous efforts by the Trump Administration, the 2020 Census contains no question about citizenship status.

Your response is vital to providing resources to you, your family, and your community. The Census results will inform how federal funding is allocated to programs you and other New Yorkers depend on, including Medicaid, community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

As a city, we need to put extra effort into responding to the Census. We are fighting for our share of over $650 billion a year that the federal government allocates, and with the coronavirus decimating New York’s budget, every person counts.

Scott Short is the CEO of RiseBoro Community Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to holistic community revitalization in New York City. On Twitter @RiseboroNYC.

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Coronavirus Ravaged New York's Budget and Made Your Census Participation More Important Than Ever Tue, 09 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
U.S. Census Bureau Resumes Limited Field Operations in New York and NYC Continues Outreach While State Remains MIA 2020 Census efforts in New York

2020 Census efforts continue, though NY State is MIA (photo: Governor's Office)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York, it posed severe impediments to the 2020 Census process, forcing local, state, and federal officials to suspend plans for on-the-ground outreach to make sure all state residents are counted. But federal and city officials have continued remote operations to encourage a robust self-response to the decennial population count and, as regions across New York State begin to approach a sense of normalcy, the U.S. Census Bureau has resumed some of its field activities.

The 2020 Census officially launched on March 12, just days before New York State went into a form of shutdown under an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Plans made by officials for widespread grassroots campaigns had to be abandoned or adapted. But the first phase, the self-response period, was extended from July 31 to October 31, and New Yorkers have been responding at a greater rate than ten years ago. Because of the pandemic, the fate of the second phase, where Census enumerators go door-to-door to count those who do not initially respond, seemed to be in doubt.

An accurate Census count is essential since it determines the amount of federal aid that the state receives for infrastructure, and social and economic welfare programs. The Census also decides the number of seats states hold in the House of Representatives, and the population count is used to draw electoral districts.

Even before the pandemic, officials feared a repeat of 2010, when New York City saw a severe undercount and had a self-response rate of about 62%, compared to the national average of 76%. New York State’s overall response was close to 76% as well. New York has many large “hard-to-count” populations, which are less likely to respond on their own for various reasons, requiring a far more extensive push by local government and community groups as well as greater resources for in-person counting from the Census Bureau. 

There have been some promising signs. Even though New York is still behind the nation, the self-response rate seems well on its way to beating the final tally in 2010. As of Wednesday, May 27, the state’s self-response rate was 55.1%, the city’s rate was 50.5%, and the national rate was 60.3%, according to the CUNY Mapping Service’s Census project.

The U.S. Census Bureau is now watching public health and “reopening” metrics closely to determine where field operations can be relaunched, according to Jeff Behler, director of the Census Bureau's New York Regional Office.

Already, staff have returned to field offices in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and Buffalo, and are conducting an on-the-ground “update leave” operation, which involves hand-delivering packages with Census questionnaires to remote and rural households that only have a post office box number (all other households that have not responded have been mailed those Census packets). That operation covers about 5% of households across the country, and 3% in New York State (about 270,000 households). Census workers are not knocking on doors, however, and are using GPS coordinates to deliver the packets to doorsteps of homes. Officials and advocates at all levels are still hoping that more and more people will self-respond, either online or by mail. This year’s Census is the first to go digital-first.

Behler said there are two major operations that will follow what’s happening now. The “service-based enumeration,” which is meant to count people at homeless shelters, mobile food vans, and soup kitchens. The dates for that are yet to be determined. “There are discussions that our staff at headquarters are having with high-level stakeholders to get input, to try and figure out when we do that, between now and the end of October,” Behler said. 

The next major phase is the non-response follow up, which involves door-to-door outreach. The Census Bureau has proposed beginning that phase on August 11, pending congressional approval.

Behler said the Bureau also intends to hire more enumerators than originally planned – more than 32,000 for New York State (18,000 in New York City alone), up from the earlier proposal of between 25,000 and 29,000 in total and 15,000 for the city. “So assuming it's safe to do so, because we're following all state and local guidelines, we would begin that operation. We plan on hiring more people to get it done in eight weeks, rather than ten or eleven weeks,” he said. Hiring, which was also suspended because of the pandemic, will begin next week with jobs posted to the Census website.

The Bureau will begin to contact individuals who applied for these jobs months ago, to begin the fingerprinting and background check process that is required. The shift in timeline will likely affect who will opt in for these jobs, though it also comes at a time when the state is seeing near-record unemployment and people desperate for any form of income.

Behler is also encouraged by the self-response rate so far, though it has (as expected) been higher in suburban and rural areas while lagging in urban centers. 

“One of the greatest tools that we have on the Census is the ability to bring people together, especially in these urban areas, and that's what we find works the best,” he said. “And if you would have told me six months ago, ‘Hey, we're going to take that ability away. And you're going to get to over 50% in the City of New York,’ I would have been shocked.”

Part of that success stems from the fact that New York City was well-prepared for the Census with a $40-million strategy in place, including $19 million in grant funding for outreach awarded to community-based organizations in December. The city government, with a well-resourced census office, and its grantees quickly pivoted various aspects of their plans to respond to the pandemic and have since continued to use a wide variety of strategies to inform New York City residents about the Census.

The city has also been working on some limited groundwork while maintaining strict social distancing guidelines – for instance, handing out face masks in the park and urging people to fill out the Census – and is preparing for a broader phase of outreach once it is safe to do so. Unlike most parts of New York, the city is not expected to meet a set of criteria set by the state to begin a phased reopening of its economy until the middle of next month. But New York City Census Director Julie Menin is not resting on the relative success so far. The city intends to set up 300 pop-up centers to help New Yorkers fill out the demographic questionnaire. The centers are slated to be set up at public library branches, houses of worship, and at the various nonprofits that received city funding. 

The self-response rate is “absolutely a bright spot,” Menin said in a phone interview, “because it really means that we're starting to close this gap between New York City and the nation, which is something that I think is very important because it's a national competition.”

She noted that more than one-third of New Yorkers don’t have access to the internet at home, and said the city will only be able to reach them once in-person outreach is feasible. “Those numbers we cannot and will not be able to get to until the point that we can reopen,” she said.

Since the pandemic hit the city, Menin’s office has organized text-banking and phone-banking efforts, along with a hyper-targeted mass media campaign in 24 languages. Volunteers have sent 5.6 million texts reaching 1.4 million New Yorkers; they have made 488,000 calls, reaching 92,000 individual New Yorkers in 13 languages. More than 271,000 pieces of multilingual census literature has been handed out at the Department of Education’s 490 food distribution sites around the city.

Local elected officials and nonprofits have also stepped in to help hundreds of New Yorkers complete the Census in several languages. The Census office has even created 15 separate language groups on messaging apps like WhatsApp, KakaoTalk and WeChat to target the immigrant communities that are particularly hard to reach in the city, while community groups were also adjusting to more digital efforts through localized and culturally-competent approaches.

There have been public service announcements featuring rapper Cardi B, singer Alicia Keys, television host Seth Meyers, playwright and actor Lin Manuel-Miranda, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. On Tuesday, the city even launched a contest in partnership with the food delivery service Seamless, which is giving out ten $1,000 food vouchers, one each week for ten weeks, to people who fill out the Census. (You can enter the contest here.)

Access to real-time data has also allowed the city to home in on the neighborhoods where on-the-ground outreach will be necessary. In particular, those communities that have been ravaged by the coronavirus – which have been overwhelmingly low-income communities of color – have shown lower rates of response to the Census, which could further exacerbate the inequities that already exist there. “COVID is a stark and unfortunate reminder of why the Census is so vitally important,” Menin said. “In the very difficult fiscal situation that our city is in, we cannot leave even a single dollar on the table, not to mention billions of dollars.”

New York state government, however, was already late to the census game and still hasn’t seemed to adapt to the current circumstances. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pledge to allocate as much as $70 million in resources towards census operations has not materialized, even though $10 million of that was added in the state budget that passed in April. Included in the total was a $20 million pot of grant funding that was appropriated last year to fund outreach by community-based organizations. The grants were never awarded.

The state census effort is now being overseen by Empire State Development, which has repeatedly failed to provide Gotham Gazette with the state’s census plans (if any exist) that show any progress at all or take into account the conditions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis.

In an emailed statement, ESD spokesperson Kristin Devoe indicated that the census effort may fall victim to severe budget cuts that the governor has proposed because of the loss of state revenue amid the pandemic.

“We remain fully committed to ensuring a complete and accurate count of New Yorkers in the 2020 Census and are thankful the Census Bureau recognized the complications caused by the pandemic and delayed the filing deadline to October 31,” Devoe said. “While we are actively contemplating options to achieve this vital objective, the reality is, New York State is facing a 14% drop in revenue – $61 billion over four years – and in the absence of federal funding to offset this loss, the state is developing a plan to reduce spending by over $10 billion. About 90% of State funding supports schools, healthcare, local grants and services for the most vulnerable populations, and any category where the state doesn’t cut state spending will simply mean deeper cuts in another.”

[You can fill out the census online here. A digital code is not required though one might have been/be sent to you in the mail. You can also fill it out by phone by calling 844-330-2020. The Bureau also offers assistance and different phone lines for various languages. You can find those here.]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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U.S. Census Bureau Resumes Limited Field Operations in New York and NYC Continues Outreach While State Remains MIA Thu, 28 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000