Gotham Gazette Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:39:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New York City Launches ‘Complete Count Campaign’ for 2020 Census complete count census

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

In about eight weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau will officially begin mailing out questionnaires across the country and New York City intends to be prepared. On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied with members of more than 150 community groups at NYU’s Kimmel Center to launch the city’s Complete Count Campaign to educate New Yorkers about the decennial population count and to recruit and train volunteers from hard-to-count communities to amplify those efforts.

The mayor's administration and City Council have put $40 million towards the census outreach effort this year, an unprecedented amount that dwarfs past administrations and all other municipalities across the nation. Of that funding, $19 million was awarded last month to 157 community-based organizations to reach hard-to-count populations that tend to have a low rate of self-response to the Census – seniors, low-income communities of color, immigrants and people with limited English proficiency, children below the age of 5, residents of public housing, and more.

On Tuesday, the mayor announced that the city will also spend $3 million on advertisements in ethnic and community media, about 65% of the total ad budget for the campaign, with the rest blanketing television, print, digital and social media. The campaign will include ads on the subway, on Spotify, Twitter, Facebook and more. 

"New York City has been on the front lines of the resistance against the Trump Administration and ensuring every New Yorker gets counted is central to that fight," said Mayor de Blasio, in a statement. "No matter how hard the federal government tries to silence our diverse voices, we still stand up and be counted."

An accurate count is essential for a number of reasons. The Census determines how many seats the state has in the House of Representatives and is the basis for about $74 billion in funding from the federal government that goes to social services and programs such as Section 8 housing vouchers and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often known as food stamps).

"A complete headcount in the 2020 Census is crucial for the future well-being of our city. We have to get this right to ensure we receive the proper federal funding for our schools, our roads, our health care, our public housing, and more," said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in a statement. "This is our once-in-a-decade opportunity to show the federal government that we are here, and that we count."

Besides New York’s high concentration of hard-to-count communities, there are also several other challenges associated with the 2020 Census including a predominantly online methodology for the first time and the tactics of the Trump administration, which tried unsuccessfully to place a citizenship question on the Census. After years of city officials warning immigrants to be wary of the federal government, they now find themselves trying to convince them to participate in the federal effort.

The Census Bureau is also woefully underfunded, and will hire fewer enumerators for the count. Enumerators head door-to-door in communities where residents have not responded to the questionnaire and their efforts are often inaccurate, risking an undercount. That’s why the city is hoping to ensure that New Yorkers’ respond on their own – in 2010, the city’s self-response rate was only 62%, compared with the national average of 76%.

City officials have promised a Herculean effort to achieve that goal. The NYC Census office aims to educate 10,000 New Yorkers directly and recruit 7,500 volunteers for Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees (NOCCs), to conduct “Get Out the Count” efforts across the city including through phone-banking, text-banking and on-the-ground canvassing. The city has also pressed into service the City University of New York, a range of city agencies that regularly interact with the public, and 110 branches of the city’s three library systems. They are also being aided by a host of labor unions, business groups, faith leaders and houses of worship.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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New York City Launches ‘Complete Count Campaign’ for 2020 Census Mon, 13 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City Awards $19 Million in Census Funds to Community Outreach Organizations may bdb census

Mayor de Blasio with Census Director Julie Menin and others (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to send out questionnaires for the decennial population count beginning in March, city officials are working to make sure that New York City residents respond en masse. On Friday, the city is announcing a list of 155 organizations that will receive some part of a $19-million funding pot to conduct outreach in hard-to-count communities and populations across the city.

The city’s Complete Count Fund makes up nearly half the $40 million allocation that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council made towards ensuring that New Yorkers are accurately counted next year. It’s the most funding put towards the Census effort by New York City, and the highest amount of any city across the country this time around, according to city officials. For the 2010 Census, the city spent scant resources and the self-response rate for residents was only 62%, well under the national average of 76%.

New York City is particularly vulnerable to an undercount with its heavy concentration of hard-to-count communities, including majority-black neighborhoods, public housing residents, seniors, children under the age of 5, undocumented immigrants, people with limited English proficiency and non-English speakers, people experiencing homelessness, and more. Officials at the city and state level have recognized that the best method to reach marginalized and at times nearly-invisible populations and communities is through community-based organizations that interact with them on a regular basis in their neighborhoods and in their languages.

“We will fight the fear and disinformation by those forces that want to rob us of the resources and representation that are rightfully ours by investing in community-based organizing — a model we know works," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "Neighbors will empower neighbors to stand up and be counted. New York City will not be intimidated."

Out of nearly 500 applicants for funds, the city chose 155 organizations that will be awarded grants of between $25,000 and $250,000. The groups were picked based on five criteria: geography, demography, overall reach, capacity and quality of proposals, and track record.

“We have to undo the damage that has been wrought by the Trump administration's unsuccessful and illegal attempt to add the citizenship question,” said NYC Census Director Julie Menin, in a phone interview, emphasizing the importance of the grants. “It is most often community groups and community voices that have been trusted leaders in their neighborhood for years who people will listen to.”

Another at times intersecting challenge this time around is that the Census will for the first time be digital-first, with residents encouraged by Census mailers to identify themselves online. If residents do not respond on their own, Census Bureau enumerators must find them at home to count them, a costly and laborious exercise that has led to undercounts in the past. And undercounts can have disastrous consequences, leading to cuts in federal funding to the state and even a drop in representation in the House of Representatives where New York State already stands to lose at least one seat owing to a decrease in population.

“We're in a national competition with other states, and to the extent that New Yorkers do not respond, that just means that other areas receive funding that is rightfully ours,” Menin said. “We can't allow that to happen.”

In a statement, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson reiterated that the community-based organizations are crucial in ensuring a complete and accurate count. “We have to get this right. This is a once-in-a decade chance to make sure we get the federal resources we deserve. Every New Yorker counts. This is an investment in our future,” he said.

Among the grant recipients is Sure We Can, an organization that runs a recycling center and advocates for 7,000 canners, who earn a living from collecting and recycling containers. Many of those canners come from communities that have been historically undercounted.

“There are cultural forces that render this population largely invisible and that's a big reason that we want to get involved in the census,” said Ryan Castalia, special projects coordinator of Sure We Can. “Because things like lack of digital literacy, non-English speaking, even cultural resistance to being counted due to...a lifetime of stigmatization and resistance to being a part of these systems has led to just the codification of the structures that keep them from participating.”

The census-related funding provides an opportunity to “directly contribute to these people not just having an abstract sense of empowerment but literally being counted by a culture, by a country, by a state that has been resistant to recognizing their needs,” he said. The money the organization is receiving from the city will chiefly go to training and preparing teams of canners to be Census outreach workers.

“While they might comprise 7,000 people, their reach could potentially be enormous and incredibly impactful to a community that is quite oftentimes marginalized and overlooked,” Menin said of the organization.

The factors that affect canners apply across many vulnerable populations and the city chose a broad range of organizations to address them. Other awardees include, for instance, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s East Kings County Alumnae Chapter. The sorority has 80 volunteers that work with the African/Sub-Saharan African, African-American, Caribbean, Haitian, Latinx, and Jamaican communities in Brooklyn.

There is the Apicha Community Health Center, which provides health care services to low-income and uninsured New Yorkers, particularly those living with HIV. It has 100 full-time workers who provide services to 7,000 people each year in Manhattan and Queens across the African American, Asian-Pacific Islander, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities.

Manhattan-based JASA, another grant winner, has 600 employees and works with 43,000 seniors every year. It’s clients are African-American, Caribbean, Chinese, Latinx, Puerto Rican, and Russian.

For the city, the next step in its outreach is a mass media campaign that will launch in February, Menin said.

Meanwhile, at the state level census outreach is lagging behind. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last month that the state would dedicate about $60 million worth of resources to the effort, of which $20 million in direct funding was earmarked in this year’s budget (the other $40 million is the estimated value of in-kind state resources dedicated toward census efforts). On Wednesday, the state announced that local governments could begin applying for $15 million out of that pot while the other $5 million will be distributed later to target specific hard-to-count communities.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - this article has been updated with a comment from Mayor de Blasio. 

City Awards $19 Million in Census Funds to Community Outreach Organizations Fri, 06 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Announces Census Outreach and Funding Plans peeskill downtown

(Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

After months of uncertainty about the state’s commitment to the 2020 Census, and repeated exasperated pleas for funding from advocates and elected officials, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced that the state will devote up to the equivalent of $60 million in outreach efforts for the decennial population count. According to a press release from the governor’s office, Cuomo is directing state agencies to dedicate what amounts to roughly $40 million worth of Census activities, such as helping New Yorkers fill out the form, while also beginning the process of allocating $20 million earmarked in the state budget earlier this year toward contracts with groups that will drive participation in hard-to-count communities.

“Counting every New Yorker in the 2020 Census is critical to ensuring we are accurately represented in Congress and receive the federal funding we deserve," Cuomo said in a statement. “While the federal government has thrown up road block after road block – spreading fear among immigrant communities in the process – in New York we will break through and make sure that even our most difficult to reach communities are counted.”

As Cuomo intimated, the 2020 Census will come with its fair share of complexities. New York State is home to many hard-to-count populations including seniors, children under the age of 5, homeless people, public housing residents, and immigrants, particularly non-English speakers and undocumented residents. African-American communities are historically also often home to among the lowest participation rates on the Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau is also emphasizing digital responses, creating challenges for communities with little to no access to high-speed internet, and has less-than-adequate funding to hire enumerators who go door-to-door to count residents who do not self-respond to the Census. An unsuccessful two-year effort by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the Census questionnaire also generated fear and apprehension among immigrant communities, leaders of those communities say.

An undercount would have dire consequences for the state, not only reducing its share of many billions of dollars in federal funding but also its representation in Congress, along with myriad other adverse effects that would be felt for a decade.

Cuomo’s announcement was based on the report of the New York State Complete Count Commission, which was charged with crafting a strategy for the Census count and spent months soliciting input from experts and members of the public on how the state should spend the $20 million allocated in the state budget. Next week, the state will put out a Request for Expressions of Interest so nonprofits can apply for grants out of that funding pot.

In a surprise to advocates, Cuomo also declared Tuesday that $40 million in existing state agency resources would be committed to the endeavor. The effort will involve CUNY, SUNY, and agencies across state government including the Departments of Labor, Motor Vehicles, Agriculture and Markets; the offices of Mental Health, Alcohol and Substance Abuse, and People with Developmental Disabilities; Empire State Development; and the Division of Veterans Affairs.

Cuomo noted in his announcement, for instance, that the state labor department will help New Yorkers fill out the Census at all 96 of its career centers; SUNY and CUNY will ensure as many as possible of their 700,000 students are counted; and the DMV will display Census information at its 27 state-run district offices and 94 county-run field offices, along with emailing 4 million New Yorkers in its database.

The state has precious little time to put thought into action. The Census count officially begins in March and the U.S. Census Bureau has begun to release the logistical details of the process, including a Monday announcement of areas where households in hard-to-count regions will receive paper questionnaires even amid the emphasis on digital responses.

Meanwhile, New York City has spent months preparing a multi-pronged approach to the various obstacles presented by the Census, with $40 million of its own provided together by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council. The city has created neighborhood coordinating committees, is recruiting hundreds of volunteers, engaging city agencies and local businesses, and will launch a large media campaign in January.

The state, on the other hand, had taken few steps until now. The New York State Complete Count Commission was delayed in being named and creating its strategy. The Commission’s report identified challenges and proposed solutions that were already known to advocates who say their only impediment was a lack of funds. Cuomo’s announcement on Monday was welcome news to them.

“Time is of the essence. The official Census 2020 release is just a few months away. It is imperative that we have an expeditious process for awarding the money allocated for the community based organizations that are on the frontlines,” said Esmeralda Simmons, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, in a statement.

Simmons was on the state Census commission and is a member of New York Counts 2020, a statewide coalition of advocates, nonprofit organizations and business groups that are working on an accurate census count. “Those groups, which engage directly with the community, are the trusted voices who are best able to underscore the importance of filling out the census and being counted. These are the organizations that will help make the difference and ensure that vulnerable 'hard to count' communities are fully represented in the census,” Simmons added.

“This is much needed and overdue,” said State Senator Zellnor Myrie, who has been outspoken about the need for Cuomo to move ahead on Census preparation, in a Tuesday statement. Myrie did issue a word of caution: “[A]s always, the devil is in the details. It is still unclear to us whether historically under-counted communities, like Brooklyn, will receive a proportion of the funding that is commensurate with their unique need and, whether that funding will be dispersed as expeditiously as possible given how close the census is.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Announces Census Outreach and Funding Plans Tue, 19 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Advocates Remind State Leaders of Approaching Deadline to Name Redistricting Commission new york start capitol

(photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

New York State government leaders are fond of appointing commissions, but those bodies are not known for meeting their deadlines. With those facts in mind, an advocacy group released a public letter Tuesday with an important message about governmental machinations that will significantly impact the state’s future.

With the 2020 Census around the corner, the League of Women Voters of New York State is urging the state Legislature to keep its eye on a key deadline that falls ahead of the all-important population count. By February 1, the state constitution mandates that the Legislature must appoint an “independent” commission that will draw district lines for Senate, Assembly, and congressional seats based on the census results.

The next round of redistricting is meant to be carried out by a new, untested Independent redistricting commission, which was approved by voters in a 2014 ballot referendum after being passed by the Legislature. The commission is meant to be largely immune from political influence to avoid drawing partisan districts, as was the case in the previous statewide redistricting. But, to ensure the commission does its job right, it needs sufficient funding and time to complete its work, said LWVNYS President Suzanne Stassevitch, in a letter sent on Tuesday to the state Legislature.

“The League of Women Voters of New York State believes that in order for this commission to fulfill its constitutional obligations, it must receive adequate funding from the state in the 2020-2021 fiscal budget year,” she wrote. That budget is due to be decided by April 1, but is largely determined by the governor’s executive budget, which is typically released in January.

New York’s representation in Congress and the carving and apportionment of legislative districts at the state and local levels are products of the census count. In the 2010 Census, New York’s population was acutely undercounted and the state lost one seat in the House of Representatives.

The subsequent redistricting, by a state Legislative task force, was considered particularly partisan when it came to the state Senate, strengthening rural and suburban representation, which tends to favor Republicans, and weakening the power of Democrat-leaning districts in New York City. Highly-gerrymandered and -disfigured districts can be found all over the state, with Senate districts designed to benefit Republicans and Assembly districts benefiting Democrats. It was adopted by a split Legislature, where Democrats held the Assembly and Republicans controlled the Senate, and ultimately approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. Congressional districts were drawn by a judge-appointed special master after the Legislature could not come to an agreement on proposed maps.

At the same time, as the process faced broad criticism for its opacity and skewed results, the Legislature moved to amend the state constitution and provide for an independent commission to oversee the next redistricting. It was later approved by voters and must be created by February 1, 2020.

However, the state government doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to meeting legally mandated deadlines. A separate commission – the New York State Complete Count Commission – that was meant to create a strategy for census outreach was only named months after its first report was due. The Legislature and governor then allocated $20 million in the April budget for that outreach, far short of what advocates and some legislators had sought. And the commission only submitted its report in early October and did not propose a plan for spending the money, which has yet to be released by Governor Cuomo’s budget office.

“Without timely appointments and adequate state funding, the Independent Redistricting Commission will experience the same dysfunction as the recent New York State Complete Count Commission,” Stassevitch wrote. 

The governor has no say in naming the ten-member redistricting commission, which has strict criteria to ensure independence and a nonpartisan composition, though its design did fall short of what some reformers had sought.

Two members each are meant to be appointed by Democrats Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republicans Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. Those eight appointees will then, by a majority vote, choose two members who cannot be part of either major political party. The members, who will all be paid, will choose two co-executive directors, one each to represent Democrats and Republicans. The commission is required to hold at least 12 public meetings in counties across the state.

“We will absolutely fulfil our constitutional obligation and be represented on the Independent Redistricting Commission. While concerns over timeliness are certainly valid, the effectiveness of redistricting will be determined only if the Commission achieves true independence – something Albany has been sorely lacking in these types of endeavors,” said Assembly Minority Leader Kolb, in a statement through a spokesperson.

“If they follow the requirements the commissioners have to meet in order to be appointed, that will take us some way towards a less partisan group,” Stassevitch said in a brief phone interview. “And I think the level of transparency that is required with the public meetings, and also with the choices that can be made for commissioners, I think it's going to do a lot to open up the process to public scrutiny and allow a more robust conversation where it's needed.”

One major change from last time is full Democratic control of the Legislature. In this situation, the law creating the commission protects against one party wielding undue influence over the final district lines by requiring a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to be adopted, instead of a simple majority.

Stassevitch was optimistic that the process will yield more equitable legislative districts. “The hope is that we can get the voters and the citizens and people in all of these districts at the center of this process instead of the politicians,” she said. “It was meant to be about the people, not about the politicians, and the politicians have had us, across the country in many instances, bamboozled into thinking otherwise for a long time.”

However, even though the commission will follow a nonpartisan process, its recommendations will not be binding. The Legislature could adopt its own plans after rejecting the commission’s proposed district lines twice. This next round will also be the first redistricting to take place after the United States Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act, which mandated federal approval of redrawn districts in certain counties including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

A spokesperson for Flanagan acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide one. Spokespeople for Stewart-Cousins and Heastie did not respond to requests for comment.

[Read: New York’s New, Untested Redistricting Process Set to Unfold After 2020 Census]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Advocates Remind State Leaders of Approaching Deadline to Name Redistricting Commission Tue, 12 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
'It's Critical We Get the Planning Right': Council Examines City's Initial Preparations for 2020 Census Count cm carlina riv carlos m press

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

With the launch of the 2020 Census barely five months away, the New York City Council on Tuesday summoned officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for a progress report on the city’s preparations for the decennial population count. It is a count that has a great deal riding on it, from billions of dollars in federal funding to representation in Congress, and more.

Convening a joint hearing of the Committees on Governmental Operations, Immigration, and State and Federal Legislation, City Council members sought answers from the administration on how it is spending $40 million allocated together by the mayor and the Council to ensure a complete count of the city’s residents and how city agencies are dealing with the various challenges presented by this particular census.

New York City houses various hard-to-count populations – for whom the rate of self-response to the Census is 73% or below – which include children under the age of 5, seniors, immigrants, non-English speakers, homeless people, public housing residents, and predominantly black communities. That’s why in 2010, the city’s self-response rate was only 62%, about 14 points below the national average.

“It is critical that we get the planning right so that come spring 2020, our networks are activated to respond to the [Census] questionnaire,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, who chairs the Council’s immigration committee and is also co-chair of the Council’s 2020 Census Task Force along with Council Member Carlina Rivera.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of countless state and city programs, political representation, and even our democracy rely on a complete and accurate census count,” Rivera said in her opening remarks.

The census count indeed has broad reaching ramifications for the people of New York. It is used to determine the state’s congressional representation (New York could lose two seats in an undercount) and is used to draw electoral lines for local and state elections. It also affects the distributions of roughly $650 billion in federal funds to states and localities, and determines everything from where businesses invest their money and the level and funding of services for the most vulnerable residents of the city, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

This time around, city officials are hoping to boost the city’s self-response rate even as they face several new challenges. The U.S. Census Bureau has been underfunded at the federal level, which means there will be fewer enumerators that can count residents who do not respond to the Census on their own. The Bureau is also focusing primarily on digital methodology, urging people to fill out the census online through their phones and computers, which has raised concerns about data privacy and security as well as the lack of digital literacy among certain sections of the population.
But for New York City, a particularly pressing issue is the heightened sense of apprehension and mistrust among immigrant communities about the federal government, which has been exacerbated for years by the Trump administration’s unsuccessful effort to place a citizenship question on the census questionnaire.

At the hearing, NYC Census Director Julie Menin reassured the Council members that the city’s endeavors are well underway and are split up into four pillars – a $19-million Complete Count Fund to give grants to community-based organizations; a field program involving Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees that will include 2,500 volunteers in 245 neighborhoods; partnerships with city agencies and businesses; and a multilingual mass media campaign with messages tailored to specific communities.

“Given that there is significant overlap between those populations that have been historically undercounted and populations that have been forced to live on the political or socioeconomic margins of society, achieving a complete and accurate count in every census is critical to ensure that every person in the United States has full access to the representation that they deserve,” Menin said in her opening statement.

She said the administration has already received more than 500 applications for grants from the Complete Count Fund and that those would be awarded by December. More than 500 people have also volunteered for the NOCCs and the city has been conducting trainings so that they can recruit more volunteers at the local level.

Menin’s office is also coordinating with more than 50 city agencies, particularly public facing ones such as the library system, to expand outreach. The mass media campaign, she said, will be focused on ethnic and community media and will be announced in the coming weeks, though advertisements will appear by the start of 2020.

The question of state funding loomed large over the hearing, as Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to release $20 million allocated for census outreach in the state budget earlier this year. A state commission that was supposed to recommend an implementation plan for those funds issued its report on October 8, recognizing many of the issues that were already apparent to city Census officials. But it punted the funding decision back to the governor’s administration.

“The Complete Count Commission released its report just a few weeks ago that was based on several months of research and public hearings,” said Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “We are using it as a basis to develop a plan for how the State can best work with local governments and our partners to properly distribute resources so that every New Yorker is counted in the 2020 Census.”

[Read: State Census Commission Releases Report, with Funding Decisions Kicked Back to Cuomo Administration]

City officials had no clue at Tuesday’s hearing as to how those funds would be distributed, however. “I don’t know,” said Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, when Council Member Andrew Cohen asked about the proportion of state funds that would be directed to the city. She did say she was aware that state agencies were “activated” and in various stages of planning as they await funds from the governor’s team.

Mostofi, Menin, and other officials did outline for the Council members how the administration is tackling the other challenging aspects of the census.

To count New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, the Department of Social Services is coordinating with the U.S. Census Bureau, which also does its own “group quarter” operation to find and count unhoused individuals. DSS will also spend three days counting the street homeless population in the spring, Menin said.

Kathleen Daniel, field director for NYC Census, said CUNY would recruit and pay 200 students to assist in the census campaign as leaders of NOCCs, campaign organizers, and to work with the office’s data operation. Amit Bagga, NYC Census’ deputy director, said the office is in talks with agencies that can make computers available to New Yorkers and is negotiating software contracts to provide digital training materials to CBOs.

The city’s 219 libraries will also be pressed into service, with more than 1,000 employees trained to assist New Yorkers in filling out the census online. There will also be hundreds of pop-up centers across the city, in places such as houses of worship, community centers, and elected officials’ offices, where residents can access computers to fill out the questionnaire.

Peter Lobo, director of the population division at the Department of City Planning, said the city has been working since 2016 to update the Census Bureau’s Master Address File (MAF), which includes addresses for every resident of the city. “If a person’s address is not on the MAF, that person cannot be counted in the census,” he said. Last year, he said DCP submitted 123,000 addresses, 59,000 corrections, and 3,200 deletions to the Census Bureau. Only six of the new addresses were rejected and 1,602 of the deletions were accepted. Lobo said the department will also send a list of more than 100,000 newly-constructed housing units to the Bureau on October 30.

Bagga and Menin also noted that the city is helping the Census Bureau recruit enumerators and employees, particularly after the Bureau obtained a waiver to hire noncitizens, who are seen as important in helping achieve a complete count among certain communities.

A major concern for many of the Council members, however, was how the city could overcome the wariness among immigrant communities and urge them to respond to the federal government. Mostofi emphasized that the divide would be best bridged by enlisting the various community groups that are trusted voices in their neighborhoods. “We recognize that the federal government’s efforts to sow fear and confusion must be countered with easy-to-understand information and outreach, including language access for our immigrant population,” she said earlier.

Menin said combating “misinformation and disinformation” is one of the biggest challenges for the city. Menin and Bagga emphasized that the mass media campaign would also account for different communities through culturally competent messages and translations. “We know that slightly different messages are going to resonate slightly differently in different places. So we need to be prepared for that,” Bagga said.

Menin pointed out that in 2010, the federal government was largely in charge of the broad media outreach and the message was uniform. “The messaging being, ‘Fill out the census, it's your civic duty.’...It wasn't micro-targeted. We're completely flipping that model. We want to micro-target our messaging to various communities so that people really understand what's at stake.”

Several data experts, civil rights groups, immigrant rights organizations, business groups, and government reform advocates also testified at Tuesday’s hearing. They included the New York Immigration Coalition, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Taiwanese American Association of New York, the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Association for a Better New York, the Digital Equity Laboratory at The New School, Citizens Union, the Arab-American Family Support Center, the Asian American Federation, Community Resource Exchange, and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

'It's Critical We Get the Planning Right': Council Examines City's Initial Preparations for 2020 Census Count Tue, 29 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
State Census Commission Releases Report, with Funding Decisions Kicked Back to Cuomo Administration mmv president attends

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

A state commission charged with creating a plan for ensuring a complete count of New York residents in the 2020 Census has finally released its report, nine months after it was due and with continued ambiguity over how state census funding will be distributed.

The New York State Complete Count Commission, made up of executive and legislative branch appointees, spent months holding hearings across the state to solicit input on the challenges posed by the decennial census and how the state should respond. The commission was co-chaired by New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado and Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government and a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

This year’s state budget included $20 million for census efforts and the commission’s report, approved in a unanimous vote on Tuesday morning, is meant to be a roadmap for allocating that funding and avoiding an undercount, which could lead to less federal funding for the state, a loss of possibly two seats in the House of Representatives, and a whole host of other ancillary effects over the course of a decade.

Many of the concerns the report outlines were already apparent to advocates and observers: That New York is home to potentially 4.8 million hard-to-count individuals (particularly children under the age of 5) and that several communities lack language access, that the new online methodology could lead to lower responses among seniors or those lacking computer literacy, that the Census Bureau is having trouble recruiting workers and that communities of color and immigrants are particularly wary of the process, owing in no small part to the Trump administration’s unsuccessful efforts to add a citizenship question.

That question threat, in particular, has “created a lot of controversy, and had a potential chilling effect and created consternation in many of our communities, especially our foreign-born communities,” said Malatras, at Tuesday’s meeting where commissioners video-conferenced in from across the state. “Besides California, New York State has the highest percentage of foreign-born communities and people in the nation. So, in particular, it hits our state hard.”

The report also noted worries about data protection because of the digital-focused questionnaire, and omissions of home addresses from the Census Bureau’s records.

The challenges are by no means small. There are more than 200 languages spoken across the state but the Census Bureau will only provide video and printed guides in 59 languages and will translate the online questionnaire into only 12 other languages besides English. As many as 113,000 New Yorkers will have no language support from the Census Bureau, the report notes.

About 13.5% of households across the state also lack access to the internet at home, which could depress their self-response rate. The federal government has also yet to provide a waiver to the New York Census office to hire non-citizens as enumerators, who go door-to-door surveying residents in communities where the self-response rate is low. Advocates and officials agree that in immigrant-heavy communities, non-citizens are often the most effective at gaining people’s trust and soliciting responses.

Failing to meet these challenges could mean that New York State could see a drop in self-response rates to 58%, down from 62% in 2010 when the national average was 76%, according to Census Bureau estimates.

The report lays out several recommendations for a strategy the state should follow. It includes an analysis of hard-to-count census tracts, identifying where the state should expend its resources. The commission recommends a targeted communications campaign for communities at risk of an undercount and additional support for areas that lack internet connectivity and populations that rank low on digital literacy.

It also pushes for expanded translation services and building trust with immigrant communities. The report notes that if federal immigration authorities seek to misuse Census data, the state’s Liberty Defense Project should be pressed into action to provide legal assistance to immigrants.

Acknowledging that certain sections of the population fly under the radar, the report specifically urges the state to ensure an accurate count of people experiencing homelessness. It also pushes for ensuring that individuals in group-living situations – students in dormitories, seniors in nursing homes, inmates in correctional facilities – are counted.

The commission laid out a detailed plan for how the state can support municipalities with their efforts to conduct census outreach including providing aid to local complete count committees, collaborating with “trusted voices” like nonprofit service providers, labor, and faith-based organizations, enlisting all state agencies in the census effort, collaborating with the philanthropic community and establishing Census Assistance Centers in hard-to-count census tracts.

One place the report falls short is on details of how the $20 million in state funding will be spent. It’s unclear in what form that funding will be utilized.

“We are reviewing the report and the insight it provides on how the State, local governments and our partners can work together so that every New Yorker is counted in the 2020 Census,” said Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget, in an email.

At the hearing, Malatras acknowledged that the commission’s work had been delayed – it was only appointed after its first report was already due. “What we have to do today is we get this report to the state so they can release those resources that they provided in the budget,” he said. The commission is also meant to release a second and final report in January that details progress on its recommendations, he pointed out.

Commissioner Henry Garrido, executive director of labor union DC37 (who was appointed when Commissioner Hector Figueroa of 32BJ SEIU unexpectedly passed away -- the report includes a dedication to Figueroa) raised concerns about mistrust in immigrant communities and the question of hiring non-immigrants. Though Malatras admitted that “there was no clarity” on the use of the federal waiver, he urged local authorities to move ahead either way. “So we're going to go forward as if it would be okay to hire,” he said.

He also noted that, with a lack of support from the federal government, the state would have to step up. He pointed to the Department of Labor, in particular, noting that it has a robust census outreach plan in place already and said that the state would use SUNY and CUNY as recruiting centers for census outreach workers. 

Commissioner Jose Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation, raised the issue of the release of state funds. “We are already really late in the game,” he pointed out, wondering about the process and timeline on which the money would be awarded to community-based organizations. “It is those trusted sources that are going to help us deliver on the promise of getting a complete count in New York State,” he said.

Calderón’s worries were echoed by other commissioners including Esmeralda Simmons, founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, CUNY. “It's a roadmap,” she said of the report, “but unfortunately, it doesn't get us to our destination.”

She said CBOs have been waiting for months for funding to assist their work and the report provides few details on that front. “Everyone's waiting for recommendations on how the money is going to be spent, and how it's going to be utilized,” she said. “And we all know state government is not usually that swift. I appreciate all the actions that are anticipated but we have said none of that in this report. We've talked about no plan on how to get the money out there.”

Malatras sought to downplay those concerns, insisting that the next report due in January will address any funding issues and that it wasn’t within the commission’s authority to dictate whether the state dole out funding through a competitive bidding process or through agencies. “We want to make sure there's maximum flexibility for the state Legislature, the executive and others to say this is how they want to do it,” he said.

Simmons later pushed a motion to send a message of urgency in writing that the $20 million in census funding “be appropriated by the most efficient and expeditious method using state entities.” The motion was unanimously approved.

[Read: As City Rolls Out Census Funding for Outreach Efforts, State Lags Behind]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

State Census Commission Releases Report, with Funding Decisions Kicked Back to Cuomo Administration Tue, 08 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As City Rolls Out Census Funding for Outreach Efforts, State Lags Behind union sq counts

(photo: @NYCImmigrants)

New York City is moving full steam ahead with its effort to ensure that the 2020 Census counts each and every resident of the five boroughs, with millions of dollars in funding and a four-pillar strategy for outreach to hard-to-count communities. But New York State’s effort seems to have stalled and there is little indication that state authorities are moving with urgency despite the many billions of dollars in federal funding and congressional representation at stake.

In the 2010 Census, New York City residents’ self-response rate to the Census was an abysmal 62%, well below the national average of 76%. The city is home to many hard-to-count populations – among which self-response rates are relatively low – including children, seniors, immigrants, predominantly black communities, and residents of public housing. An undercount of these populations can affect everything from federal funding levels for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Section 8 housing vouchers to business investment in the city and the state’s seats in the House of Representatives.

Increasing the rate of self-response also means requiring fewer census enumerators, the individuals who go door-to-door to count residents who have not responded. Officials have been working for years at the city and state levels to make sure that the Census Bureau has a complete list of addresses for New York residents.

The 2020 Census is plagued with many new and particular problems that have raised concerns that New York could see an even lower self-response rate – as low as 58%, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The Census Bureau is being underfunded by the federal government, with fewer enumerators being hired to hit the ground; the Trump administration sought unsuccessfully to place a citizenship question on the Census form, worrying and potentially discouraging responses from immigrants; and the count is being conducted digitally for the first time, which could affect response among those who lack access to the internet and particularly among older residents. 

Between Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and the New York City Council, the city has budgeted $40 million towards Census outreach, the most funding ever put towards this effort. The city is pursuing a multi-faceted strategy that includes a massive field effort, grants for community-based organizations, a mass media campaign, and partnerships between city agencies.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Census Director Julie Menin launched the city’s Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees (NOCCs), which are meant to enlist 2,500 volunteers that will aid in census outreach across 245 neighborhoods. The launch came one day after the city announced the $19-million New York City Complete Count Fund, which will give out grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 to qualifying community-based organizations.

The city accepting applications till October 18 and is expected to award the funds by December. The actual Census count will begin April 1.

The $19 million allocation follows an initial $4 million to CBOs by the City Council in August to begin Census work. 

The remaining $17 million of the $40 million has yet to be distributed. Those funds are expected to cover the mass media campaign, which will launch in 2020, and the overall field campaign through the NOCCs.

“The idea behind the NOCCs is that we believe very strongly...that people really want to be involved in the future of their neighborhood,” Menin said in a phone interview. “The best kind of outreach that we can have is neighbor-to-neighbor contact.”

The 245 committees will train volunteers about the importance of the census, how it works and how best to organize locally. “This is really a train-the-trainer model that is very much proven to work,” Menin said.

Additionally, the 2,500 volunteers will act as “census ambassadors” and the city will provide them with printed materials, talking points and a digital tool kit on the census. The NOCCs will also organize phone banks and text banks to conduct outreach, and will also partner with CBOs that receive grants from the city. These CBOs and neighborhood volunteers are particularly essential in immigrant communities for whom English is not a first language or who may have limited English proficiency.

The city has also reached an agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to receive real-time data on self-response rates, to monitor neighborhoods where residents may not be filling out census forms in the initial phase of the count. “So all the volunteers and really anyone living in those neighborhoods will be able to see exactly how their community is doing each day,” Menin said.

New York state government, on the other hand, has been silent on how it will spend the $20 million allocated in the state budget earlier this year for the 2020 Census. That funding (only half of what advocates had called for) is meant to be distributed based on a report by the New York State Complete Count Commission, which held its last hearing to receive public input on July 31. The report is far past its due date and won’t be out for another few weeks, according to a state official.

“The Complete Count Commission has heard testimony and received comments from local governments, grassroots organizations and the general public across New York State, and we are awaiting the Commission’s recommendations on how best to leverage the up to $20 million made available in the State Budget, existing state resources, and our partnerships with organizations on the ground so that we can maximize outreach efforts and get every New Yorker counted,” said Mercedes Padilla, a spokesperson for New York’s Department of State, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

Padilla said the recommendations would be made in the next few weeks, but did not provide specifics. The co-chairs of the commission are New York’s Secretary of State Rossana Rosado and Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government and formerly a top aide to Governor Cuomo.

On September 24, nearly three dozen local, state, and federal elected officials representing Brooklyn wrote a letter to Governor Cuomo, calling for at least $4 million from the $20-million pot to be sent to census efforts in the borough. With more than 2.6 million residents, Brooklyn is the most populous of New York State’s 62 counties, and the letter notes that 80% of Brooklynites live in hard-to-count communities.

“An undercount in Brooklyn would be an unmitigated disaster not only for the people we represent, but the entire state,” the letter reads. “Billions of dollars in federal aid programs could be lost. While Brooklynites already face a lack of resources for many of their immediate needs, an undercount would only make this worse.”

Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie expressed frustration that the state is sitting on its hands while the city has allocated and released funds. “We have seen the city step up to the plate...and here [at the state level], we have a situation in which we had money allocated in April, we had a commission that went around the state to solicit feedback on how the census outreach should look, and we have neither the report nor the money.”

Myrie and other elected officials have, in the meantime, begun their own efforts to educate their constituents about the census, hosting information sessions in their districts. Others like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz have created their own Complete Count Committees with discretionary funds to aid in an accurate count.

“I think we're really putting ourselves at risk of repeating a failed history of counting our community,” Myrie said.

Menin also said that the state had provided no answers yet to city officials on how state funds will be distributed. Though some amount of state money will clearly be spent in the city, Menin said that state officials have indicated that it’s unlikely that funds would be funnelled through the city government. It’s also unclear whether a majority of those funds will go to community organizations and nonprofits, as advocates from the statewide New York Counts 2020 coalition have been pushing.

United Neighborhood Houses, a nonprofit based in New York City and a member of that coalition, is among the CBOs that have received discretionary funds from the New York City Council for census organizing efforts. “We're really strong believers in the fact that community-based organizations are key partners in census outreach,” said Nora Moran, UNH’s director of policy and advocacy, in a phone interview.

Moran noted, as have others, that there is little time until the census begins in earnest. The first mailers from the Census Bureau will be sent out in March. “We know that there's a lot at stake, and there's hard-to-count communities upstate as well as downstate,” she said. “And we really hope that the governor's office releases...that funding that they allocated towards census outreach...sooner rather than later.”

Last month, the New York Counts coalition similarly sent a letter to the governor to press their demands. “We are losing valuable time. While many local governments, libraries and community-based organizations (CBOs) have begun their outreach and organizing activities, the effectiveness and depth of these efforts is dependent on additional funding,” the coalition wrote.

“I think there's just a clear evidence of what needs to be done,” said Myrie, “and what is unclear is why there is a delay.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated for clarification. 

As City Rolls Out Census Funding for Outreach Efforts, State Lags Behind Thu, 03 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Census Moves Online, City Comptroller Warns of Digital Divide and Recommends Steps to Bridge It comp scott stringerab

Comptroller Stringer (photo: @NYCComptroller)

The first Census to be conducted primarily online may undercount nearly 2.2 million New Yorkers — mostly communities of color, seniors, and those living around or below the poverty line — putting as much as $5.8 billion in federal funds at stake, according to a new report released Tuesday by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer held a press conference Tuesday with Congressional Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), State Senator Jessica Ramos, and census outreach advocates to outline the findings in the report and make recommendations for how the city can tackle challenges presented by a digital census. The decennial count of all people living in the United States that is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, is set to start in April of next year, with local preparations already underway, including city and state funding that was recently allocated for outreach efforts.

The report provides an analysis of which communities and neighborhoods in the city lacked broadband internet connection at home as of 2017, making it more difficult for them to complete the 2020 Census.

The report found that citywide, 29 percent of households lack internet access, but that the disparity hits some communities harder than others. Up to half of residents are without internet in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Port Richmond, Hunts Point, Kensington, and Jamaica, while 30 percent of Hispanic and black residents also do not have sufficient access. Forty-four percent of New Yorkers in poverty did not have broadband internet and neither did 42 percent of senior residents.

“The very people who may need more federal support are at risk of going undercounted,” Stringer said.

The population totals in the Census guide amounts of federal funding — Stringer said around $5.8 billion in total — the city receives for programs like school lunches, Head Start, and winter heating assistance, as well as the number of representatives in Congress and the New York State Legislature.

The comptroller recommended eight ways the city can both use the $40 million allocated in the city budget for Census outreach and resources that already exist to help ensure an accurate count. These include sending paper forms to the communities with the lower rates of internet access, expanding digital resources at public libraries, and providing community-based organizations adequate resources to address potential challenges.

The state has also allocated $20 million for Census outreach.

The Census Bureau is attempting to have as many people as possible fill the Census out online, but expects to provide paper ballots to roughly 20 percent of the population. United States residents will be receiving postcards with a web address to fill the Census out online.

Espaillat, whose district includes Harlem, Inwood, and Washington Heights, said community outreach is key to improving the response rate in hard-to-count areas. He said to improve the response rate in Washington Heights in 2010, his office had an “army” in Upper Manhattan knocking on doors and asking pediatricians to inform mothers that they needed to include their children on the form.

“We really must become innovative in making sure that money goes as far as it can to get boots on the ground to knock on those doors three, four times,” Espaillat said.

Ramos emphasized that the 2020 Census will also steer the next legislative redistricting process and an accurate count has the potential to mitigate gerrymandering effects. She said counting every resident helps ensure that the government will be representative.

“We saw the disaster that was the Republican-led State Senate for such a long time, and now we have a Democratic majority, largely because of the work and the political climate that we lived,” Ramos said. “But that’s not how it should necessarily be decided. Gerrymandering needs to be stopped.”

Community stakeholders at the press conference stressed that outreach to some communities will be more difficult than previous years because of the fear stemming from the Trump administration’s attempted citizenship question and the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Some said there are concerns that the Muslim community will be undercounted and that undocumented immigrants will be afraid to open doors.

“This is an important fight,” Espaillat said. “It has not ended with the citizenship question. Now we have another fight which is to make sure that those neighborhoods in Internet deserts are included in the count.”

Julie Samuels — the executive director of Tech NYC, which advocates for policies that support the growth of technology companies and talent in New York City — said at the press conference that while the Census going online will eventually lead to a more accurate and more robust count, the White House has not adequately primed the nation for its rollout.

She added that transitions in general are difficult even with better build-ups.

“The Trump administration was spending its time chasing down this crazy citizenship question. It’s becoming clear, if it wasn’t already obvious, that in that distraction the administration has failed to properly prepare for the first online Census,” Samuels said. “People have to be able to take the census, and they have to understand how it works. And, they need the right access.”

Stringer said that with so much money at stake, he hopes the city and state will take his recommendations as a roadmap to tackling internet access disparities and ensuring all communities are counted.

“Without that $5.8 billion this city would be in real jeopardy,” Stringer said. “We can’t play games with this administration in Washington. They make no secret of their racist and anti-immigrant agenda.”

by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

As Census Moves Online, City Comptroller Warns of Digital Divide and Recommends Steps to Bridge It Tue, 23 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Solving New York City’s Next Big Census Problem resource cm carlos menchaca attends sbs

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

New Yorkers got some great news last week when President Trump abandoned plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding the question to the Census would have resulted in a massive undercount of the city’s population, causing New York to lose its share of billions in federal funding for vital programs and services.

But there’s another wrinkle in this upcoming Census that could significantly depress participation across the city: the move to a digital Census. This will be the first-ever Census to be completed largely online. Though this change will be welcome news for many tech-savvy New Yorkers, it will bring new challenges in a city where 14 percent of residents live in households without a computer, 23 percent lack a broadband connection at home, and many more aren’t digitally proficient.

Just as city leaders stood up and fought the proposed inclusion of the citizenship question, New York City needs a wide-scale effort to make sure the move to a digital Census does not deter large numbers of New Yorkers from completing their forms. One way they can do this is by partnering in a big way with New York City’s branch libraries.

In recent years, libraries have extended far beyond their historical book-lending role to become the city’s most accessible technology hub for New Yorkers on the wrong side of the digital divide. In addition to providing computer stations, laptop loans, and free internet, they are also a place where those with limited tech literacy can get a helping hand from librarians.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers already turn to branch libraries for tech help, whether it is applying to a job online, filling out Medicare applications, or simply staying in touch with family via email or Facebook. 

Beyond having a substantial technology infrastructure, libraries have unparalleled reach: the city’s 216 branch libraries are on the ground in nearly every community across the five boroughs. Importantly, libraries are also one of the city’s most trusted institutions, providing a range of services in multiple languages but never asking for personal information.

All this makes libraries a natural fit to extend their services to help New Yorkers fill out the digital Census.

Right now, however, it’s not clear that the city’s libraries have the capacity to do this effectively. Many branches across the five boroughs don’t have laptops to loan, and most libraries have at most six or twelve computer terminals, barely enough to serve existing demand.

Beyond the need for more dedicated computers, laptops, and tablets, libraries will need additional staff to help the many patrons who require significant assistance completing the digital Census. At most branches today, librarians are already overextended.

To his great credit, Mayor de Blasio has already launched an outreach campaign to ensure an accurate Census count, and the recently passed city budget includes $40 million to support this effort. The de Blasio administration should devote a portion of those funds to the city’s libraries. Doing so would empower branches across the city to ramp up their capacity and harness their considerable potential to boost participation in the online Census. 

Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity in New York. On Twitter @jbowlesnyc & @nycfuture.

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

Solving New York City’s Next Big Census Problem Tue, 16 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Officials Discuss Next Steps in Bridging Digital Divides, Including Online Census Cuomo broadband for all

(photo: governor's office)

Leaders in civic technology, including elected and appointed government officials, appeared at a forum Monday to discuss the necessary next steps to bridge New York’s gaps in internet access and digital literacy.

It is essential, they said, that New Yorkers not only have access to the web, for a variety of reasons including job and housing opportunities, but that they are skilled enough to use it. And both gaps must be bridged, they explained, not only in the state’s rural areas, but also in urban areas with high levels of internet isolation.

The forum, hosted by New York Law School, was addressed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; Josh Breitbart, the de Blasio administration’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer; and Karim Camara, the head of Governor Cuomo’s Office of Faith Based Community Development Services. All three officials addressed the critical need for universal, equitable access to the internet and digital technology, and to ensure that certain, often marginalized groups are not left behind.

The half-day event also included a panel discussion on similar topics, featuring former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; Nicol Turner Lee of the Brookings Institution; Tom Kamber of Older Adults Technology Services; and Justin Vélez-Hagan of the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce.

Civic technology, and the way government can broaden access to and interest in the digital world as it becomes more and more essential to everyday life, is due to play a major role in upcoming public policy debates. The 2020 U.S. Census will be the first decennial federal census to be largely conducted online. In addition to the various controversies associated with the Trump administration’s handling of the census, most notably the proposed citizenship question, a mostly-online census threatens to undercount communities with limited access to the internet, such as the elderly or low-income people.

New York City and State governments are investing in census outreach programs for the coming year, with the city planning to fund an initiative to place help desks in libraries and public schools to assist those lacking tech access to complete the census. An incomplete count would put New York’s share of federal funding and its representation in Congress in jeopardy.

“We may have areas that are not counted because they don’t have the technology. And isn’t that ironic, because they’re gonna lose federal funds that could help their community because we’re not helping their community now,” Camara said in his closing address to the forum. “And so I think that’s so critical, and why this discussion is something that’s an urgent discussion.”

The recently passed state budget included $20 million in census outreach funding, half of what advocates called for, and the mayor’s executive budget plan includes $26 million for such funding, again less than the $40 million advocates said should be dedicated to working with nonprofit and other organizations to help ensure a full count.

“With the census coming, it’s gonna be a big challenge making sure that there is enough technology in the libraries and the non-profit community to end up supporting those who are not tech savvy,” Brewer said. In her speech, Brewer highlighted other initiatives her office has either worked on or is working on, such as equity in broadband access across public schools and assisting community boards in learning how to use the city’s open data portal.

The notion that certain communities are being left behind in the technologized world permeated throughout the conference. Breitbart discussed the challenges of both providing affordable, easy-to-use internet access to all communities while also preventing the proliferation of scams, hacks, racist abuse, and fake news from negatively affecting them.

“We can’t solve the digital divide having internet that exists that way,” Breitbart said, noting that the city is working on municipal wifi infrastructure beyond Link NYC kiosks, which replaced payphones, while also hosting workshops at libraries and other municipal spaces to assist seniors and others in the identification of threats and negative trends.

Several speakers highlighted that policymakers often neglect broadband coverage and usage gaps in urban areas in favor of proposing solutions for rural areas, having a disproportionately negative effect on residents of color. “Digital exclusion,” as some speakers described the phenomenon, not only prevents people from watching videos of cats, but also from searching for housing, applyong for jobs, and accessing social services, among other things.

“We need federal lawmakers, as well as state lawmakers, to understand that the digital divide still exists within urban communities,” Turner Lee said, noting that while rural communities should not be left out of the picture, focusing only on the lack of access in those communities ignores a vast swath of unconnected people.

“It’s disheartening when you go to a city like Hartford, Connecticut, and black girls still have to walk to McDonald’s to get wifi access to finish their homework,” Turner Lee said. “That’s disheartening. And so we have to work on lawmakers to understand that, even though there may be less market failure in urban areas, it does not mean that they’re not deserving of the same type of access.”

Rural residents were not left out of the conversation at the forum, though. Camara noted the state’s efforts in his remarks, citing the Cuomo administration’s $500 million commitment of state subsidies to expand high-speed broadband to rural regions lacking connectivity, with the state incentivizing the private sector to provide 100 mbps speeds to most underserved regions and 25 mbps to the most remote areas.

The program has apparently been successful, with Cuomo claiming that the state has cut the percentage of New Yorkers without high speed broadband access down from 30% in 2015 to 2% last year.

This puts New York ahead of the nation at large on broadband access. The FCC’s 2018 Broadband Progress Report found that 6% of Americans still lack access to fixed broadband service, and in rural areas that proportion is approaching a quarter of the population. And despite strides in ensuring access to broadband, “approximately 100 million Americans still do not subscribe.”

Nonetheless, the third and final phase of New York’s broadband project, which provides $210 million in awards to expand high speed broadband to 122,000 hard-to-reach households, has stalled. The administration did not meet its end-of-2018 deadline to achieve comprehensive high speed broadband access, owing largely to its dispute with Charter Communications over its own unmet obligations to expand its network in the state’s rural areas. And though broadband access is now nearly universal, a report by Microsoft found that high speed broadband usage in hard-to-reach areas is still relatively low.

“We’re certainly making progress,” Camara said, “but broadband development and rolling out at a cost point affordable to most people is still very challenging work, and we still have a lot of work to do.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Officials Discuss Next Steps in Bridging Digital Divides, Including Online Census Mon, 29 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000