Gotham Gazette Sun, 27 Sep 2020 17:44:43 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) 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
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

Read more by this writer.

Crunch Time for New York Census Count as September 30 Deadline Looms and Numbers Lag Tue, 01 Sep 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

Read more by this writer.

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
City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus — and Reports Good Initial News 2 covid census

Census organizing efforts before coronavirus (photo: @JulieMenin)

Officials at the city, state, and federal levels had for years planned varying efforts to conduct a robust outreach campaign this year for the 2020 Census, to ensure an accurate count of New York’s population that will determine the level of federal funding the state receives and its representation in Congress. But the coronavirus outbreak has upended those plans, which relied heavily on person-to-person contact, especially in the hardest-to-count communities, and officials are beginning to course correct as they worry that an accurate count may be more necessary now than ever before. 

With as many as 17,856 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city as of Wednesday afternoon, out of a total of 30,811 cases statewide, New York City has quickly become the country’s epicenter of the pandemic. The very density in the city that has contributed to the rapid spread of the virus is also partly what makes it a city where there are numerous challenges to conducting a precise population count.

“We're in unprecedented times, we’re in a crisis of epic proportions,” said New York City 2020 Census Director Julie Menin, in a phone interview, noting that city has had to shift its census strategy, which had been months in the making and was originally intended to press a large ground operation into service. “Post-COVID, we've made a number of very quick shifts,” she added.

The two main phases of the Census are the initial self-response phase, where individuals are encouraged to fill out the census themselves, and the enumeration phase, which involves enumerators hired by the U.S. Census Bureau going door-to-door to count those people who did not respond. 

In a letter sent last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio called on U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to extend the current timelines for the Census, including by delaying the self-response deadline from July 31 to September 30; the Bureau has already extended it to August 14. De Blasio also said the Bureau should postpone its early non-response follow-up efforts to the end of summer, otherwise it would miss the many students of colleges and universities that have left the city amid the outbreak and could return later. The Bureau has already postponed that operation from April 9 to April 23, while also changing its protocols for counting people in group quarters. On the same day as the mayor’s letter, the Bureau also suspended all its field operations till April 1.

“Maintaining the current timeframe for census operations in New York City would not only risk severely damaging the accuracy and credibility of the population count, it would also likely exacerbate an already severe public health crisis,” the mayor wrote. 

In New York City’s dense population are concentrations of those who tend to have lower self-response rates such as seniors, homeless people, residents of public housing, people with limited English-proficiency, non-English speakers, African-American communities of varying income bands, Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, people living in group quarters, and more. 

Self responses yield the most accurate data. But the city’s self-response rate of 62% in 2010 was far below the national and state averages of 76%. That’s why city officials were hell-bent on making sure to invest early in efforts to make sure people proactively fill out the census questionnaire. New York City’s $40 million allocation towards census outreach, including $19 million in direct grants to 157 community-based organizations, was the largest investment in such an effort. 

The city’s focus on the first phase seems to have already paid some dividends. Early self-response rates are up from 2010, though this might also owe to the fact that the Census Bureau is mostly asking people to fill out the Census online for the first time. The city’s self-response rate was 16.8% as of March 24 – 16.3% in the Bronx, 15.1%, in Brooklyn, 19.5% in Manhattan, 15.9% in Queens, and 19% in Staten Island. By March 23 in 2010, the self-response rate was only 6% citywide.

But the city had hoped to conduct a broad field operation, particularly through the community-based organizations that were granted funding that would help them reach communities that they interact with each day, that can often go overlooked by the government or may not trust the government for various reasons.

Menin’s office had created Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees that had trained thousands of volunteers, who in turn were training others, to conduct in-person census outreach. There were meant to be 300 pop-up centers where people could fill out the Census. There was an $8 million advertising campaign, with $3 million of it pegged for community and ethnic media. And there were partnerships with private sector businesses and city agencies (110 public library branches were to provide census assistance).

As the actual scope of the COVID-19 pandemic became evident, the city census office quickly shifted tack. They suspended all the door-to-door and street canvassing operations that its partner CBOs were carrying out. Organizations shifted to phone- and text-banking. The office reconfigured its advertising approach, clawing back all its ad contracts with the MTA as ads on the subway, with its plummeting ridership, will no longer have the reach they originally envisioned. Instead, they’re doubling down on digital, social media, television, and radio ads.

“Now it’s more vital than ever, in light of COVID-19,” Menin said, to get an accurate count. “Because funding for hospitals, funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program is directly linked to the Census. We want to make sure that New Yorkers know in this time of crisis for our cities, it becomes more important than ever to feel the sense of that.”

She noted one particularly germane instance of census data being used for a public health response. During the recent measles outbreak in the city, the city Department of Health used census data to determine how many vaccines it would need.    

On Sunday and Monday, the city conducted a “Text Out the Count” campaign – 1,157 people, mostly volunteers, texted 978,195 New Yorkers and received 116,159 responses. Of those, 35,116 said they had already filled out the census while another 4,925 promised to do so, according to the city census office.

“One of the ways in which we've pivoted is that we now know we need to double down on that strategy,” said Amit Bagga, deputy director of NYC Census 2020, noting that the infrastructure was already in place. “We've built it in such a way that it is allowing us to be nimble quickly and pivot very, very quickly.”

While the city had the benefit of laying months of groundwork, including 500 events around the city before the Census even began, the state has repeatedly dragged its feet. When Gotham Gazette inquired, the state had little to offer about how its own efforts have undoubtedly been hobbled by the pandemic.

Governor Cuomo had pledged a $60 million overall effort, including $20 million in grant funding that has not been sent out to nonprofits, many of which are already working on census outreach. The rest of the spending was meant to reflect state agency operations shifted toward census work, while the governor was seeking another $10 million in the upcoming state budget. 

Much of the state’s plans prior to the outbreak, which were provided by the Division of Budget, involved using the public-facing aspects of state entities to get out the census message. For example, the MTA would have used its ad space to tell people to fill out the Census. The Metro-North Railroad could have informed people at its monthly customer forums and “Station Talk” initiatives, where station managers meet and greet commuters. 

The State Athletic Commission would have provided census materials at its events. Various departments such as the Divisions of Licensing, the Division of Consumer Protection, and the Department of Motor Vehicles would have posted signage at their offices, visited by millions each year. 

But virtually all those proposed efforts fall apart when the public is told to remain at home to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 outbreak. There are no long lines at the DMV. Subways are running with far fewer passengers. The Athletic Commission is suspending events.  

Asked specifically about how the state was revamping its efforts, spokespeople for the governor did not provide any details or make anyone available for comment. Freeman Klopott, a state Division of Budget spokesperson, said in a statement, “State agencies continue to advance outreach plans and deploy resources as applicable in the current environment as part of the statewide campaign to ensure every New Yorker is counted. As soon as is possible, direct outreach efforts will move forward.”

But with the governor himself predicting that the crisis could last up to nine months, it’s hard to imagine how soon direct outreach will be possible. State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat who has focused on the Census, said he’s hoping the state will recalibrate its efforts but hasn’t heard anything about how.

“For those of us who have been talking about the Census for the past six months, this is the worst case scenario,” Myrie said. “This is exactly what we did not want to happen. We did not want the count to begin and for us to be behind the ball. It's why we were so persistent in our calls for the release of the money.” 

He also noted that the federal government’s lackluster response to New York’s pleas for more resources to fight the outbreak are the very debate central to the Census. “Part of the fight with this crisis is not getting what we deserve from the federal government,” he said. “New York is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, yet we are not receiving the requisite resources. That's the exact argument that we have made for why the Census should be the most important thing, because we don't get the federal money that we deserve on a consistent basis. So I'm hoping that we can invest to avoid that catastrophe.”

[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

Read more by this writer.

City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus — and Reports Good Initial News Wed, 25 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New York City to Share Homeless Shelter Data with U.S. Census Bureau in Unprecedented Agreement census julie

Efforts continue to get every New Yorker counted in 2020 Census (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

New York City has reached a first-of-its kind agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to transfer data on the city’s sheltered homeless population in a way that is intended to negate the need for census enumerators to perform their own separate count.

Through the agreement, which was described to Gotham Gazette by an official from the city’s census office, the city will compile data on the roughly 60,000 people expected to be sheltered at around 650 sites in the five boroughs as it stands on a particular designated night. The data will then be provided to the Census Bureau via a secure file transfer protocol.

The information will include all the city has available to fill out standard census details like name, age, sex, and address (which will be the address of an individual’s shelter). Like the rest of the information collected as part of the once-in-a-decade count, it will be protected from release by federal law and cannot be shared with other components of the federal government, such as immigration enforcement authorities.

“This plan will ensure that every single homeless person in New York City is properly counted while also accounting for community health care needs during the COVID pandemic,” said Julie Menin, the director of New York City's 2020 Census office, referencing the ongoing global public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus. The discussions between the city and the Census Bureau preceded the onset of the pandemic, but the agreement has proved particularly auspicious as the virus frustrates census outreach efforts.

Typically, the Census Bureau takes two separate and complementary approaches in attempting to count an area’s total homeless population: there’s a count of the “unsheltered” population, which includes people staying in informal spaces like subway stations, outdoor encampments, and parks, and a count of the “sheltered” population, which includes those staying at formal homeless shelters.

For this latter phase, known as the Service-Based Enumeration (SBE), census employees coordinate directly with shelters and service providers like food pantries to arrive in-person and conduct interviews with residents and clients. At shelters, their goal is to count or at least estimate the total number of people in that facility on the day they visit (this year, the SBE was slated to run between March 30 and April 1, but has been postponed).

Since 1981, homeless New Yorkers have had a legal “right to shelter,” which has meant that the vast majority of the homeless population is in sheltered as opposed to unsheltered situations, with the street population estimated at a comparatively low 3,600. (In terms of the overall homeless population, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated a higher number than the city, closer to 80,000, which accounts for a wide variety of shelter settings, not only those run by the city’s Department of Homeless Services.)

This makes the SBE particularly important for getting an accurate count of the city’s population and its demographics and living situations. However, recent events have presented a cascade of complications, starting with the Trump administration’s general posture of hostility to immigrants and its very public attempts to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire, which were ultimately blocked by the courts.

Paired with initiatives like the public charge rule and the administration’s attempts to cut food stamps and other social service programs, city officials came to believe last year that federal employees of any stripe might be viewed with suspicion in the shelters, and they wouldn’t be able to get an accurate count.

“The very notion that federal officials would be able to have access to our shelter sites was essentially a non-starter for all of our providers,” said one city census official speaking on background. “We knew for a fact that the Census Bureau's proposed approach was not actually going to yield them the results that they wanted.”

Shelters are operated by nonprofits under contract with the city to provide services to distinct populations, such as families with minor children or single adult men or women. Intake is handled centrally by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and its component Department of Homeless Services (DHS), which then refers applicants to particular providers. As such, the city possesses pretty granular and real-time data on the shelter population, including all the data points that form the basis of the census count.

Ian Hull, the deputy regional director for the Census Bureau’s New York region, said that the Bureau had been very open to the idea when city officials broached it last year, in part because they agreed that it would yield better data. “Oftentimes, when we go to shelter, people are not interested in doing a one-on-one interview, which is one of the enumeration methods… in that case, we just do headcount,” he said. “[DSS/DHS] actually have more data, and so they should be able to provide us things that we're normally seeking, such as age, date of birth, race and ethnicity, things such as that.”

The agreement now proves particularly opportune as the Bureau, and society at large, contends with the global pandemic set off by the novel coronavirus, an aggressive pathogen that spreads primarily through person-to-person contact, including through infected but asymptomatic people. The virus has spread quickly in New York City, with over 3,600 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning even as testing has lagged.

On March 15, the Bureau announced changes to the way it would conduct Group Quarters counts, which include sites like college dormitories and nursing homes; on March 18, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced that all field operations would be suspended until April 1, including the SBE. The original snapshot date for the city’s data transfer to the Census Bureau was March 31, but the postponements mean it will be pushed back. Hull said that the SBE had to “count everyone nationwide on basically the same three day period,” and it was unclear when exactly that would take place.

Census employees moving across shelters and interacting with large numbers of people who are themselves occupying shared spaces with dozens of others could be a perfect storm for disease propagation. However, under the agreement, enumerators would never have to enter the shelters at all, and could simply rely on the city data.

The fact of such a data transfer occurring isn’t itself unprecedented. “Other cities and other shelters have the ability to provide the data to us administratively,” said Hull, and some number of them do every count. However, this appears to be the first time a city, and certainly the largest city in the nation, has reached a specific bilateral agreement with the Bureau outside of its standard data transfer systems, partly on account of the sheer amount and complexity of the transfer. “From those standpoints, it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind of agreement, but I think it's important to note that the actual enumeration method, if you will, is not,” he said.

While the model is promising in some ways, under current circumstances the precedent is of somewhat limited applicability. By and large, the Census Bureau attempts to gather information for every American household, and only attempts group counts in limited circumstances, like for homeless populations and senior homes. Enumerators will still have to go apartment-to-apartment for households that don’t respond, presumably once the extant threat of the virus has abated. This is the first year the Census is being conducted online-first, with most households encouraged to go straight to the internet to fill out the questionnaire, and more than 10 million across the country have done so already.

The agreement between the city and the Bureau on the homeless shelter population could set a precedent other municipalities could attempt to follow. Amit Bagga, the deputy director of NYC Census 2020, told Gotham Gazette, “we found that the process of working with the Census Bureau to be incredibly collaborative and productive,” largely because, at a time when New York and the federal government are locking horns over all sorts of public policy issues, the interests of the city and the interests of the Census Bureau aligned.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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New York City to Share Homeless Shelter Data with U.S. Census Bureau in Unprecedented Agreement Fri, 20 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Engaging Black Media, City Looks to Boost Government Trust, Census Responsiveness in Black Communities rally census partners

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Black communities in New York have historically been more likely to be undercounted by the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning fewer federal resources and political underrepresentation for those who are often the most vulnerable members of the population and those who have often been disenfranchised and discriminated against. It’s a trend that city officials are hoping to counter in this year’s Census, with the help of nonprofit community-based organizations, and grassroots organizers. On Monday, at a roundtable at City Hall, officials made entreaties to members of the black media, to open lines of communication, stress the importance of the Census, and enlist their aid in spreading the message that responding to the Census is in the best interests of their communities.

Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Phillip Thompson, who is heading up the city’s census efforts with NYC Census Director Julie Menin, noted the many reasons black communities and immigrants tend not to respond to the Census. Historically, they have had a distrust of the government, and fear that the information collected could be used against them, including by immigration enforcement authorities.

“When we talk about New York City, when we talk about government, black people's presence, history, experience, is marginalized and always has been, and I think that also affects people's willingness to participate in the census,” Thompson said to reporters from about a dozen outlets including Amsterdam News, Bronx Free Press, Hot 97, Bronxnet, WBLS, Black Star News, Brooklyn Reader, and more.

Along with Menin, he was joined by a panel that included Kathleen Daniel, field director of NYC Census 2020; Lurie Daniel Favors, interim director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College; Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City; Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director of Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; and L. Joy Williams, President of the Brooklyn NAACP.

A low self-response rate cuts across black communities – low-income communities, public housing residents, and middle- to upper-middle income black residents and homeowners all have a tendency to avoid filling out the Census questionnaire. For instance, Brooklyn is the hardest to count county in the state, and large parts of the borough – neighborhoods such as Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, East Flatbush and Brownsville, to name a few – where black residents made up more than 40% of the population had a relatively low self-response rate in 2010. Similar response rates were recorded in neighborhoods across the city such as Eastchester in the Bronx, Central Harlem in Manhattan and large swathes of Southeast Queens. That then leaves the task of finding and counting them up to the Census Bureau, and the methods it uses can lead to inaccuracies in the data and detrimental undercounts. 

An undercount has several adverse impacts. It can lead to a loss of federal funds for many programs, including SNAP, WIC, and Section 8 housing vouchers, or lead to a reduction in funds for education and infrastructure. The greatest risk, however, is for the drawing of electoral districts at the local, state, and federal level, Thomson said. New York is all but guaranteed to lose one seat in the House of Representatives because of a loss of population, and could lose as many as two because of an undercount in 2020. And Census data will be used for redrawing legislative lines of all types, from Congress to the state Legislature to the City Council.

“The risk isn't distributed evenly across all communities,” Thompson noted. “The communities that are most vulnerable to losing representation are precisely black and immigrant communities, and sometimes they're one and the same…And that translates into loss of funding and support for programs that our communities need and also a loss of voice and presence in these decision-making bodies.”

New York’s black residents are not a monolith but have often been viewed that way by prior census efforts, noted Lurie Daniel Favors, interim director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. But this year, individuals will be able to identify themselves on the census questionnaire by race, ethnicity, and nationality, an important measure that will more accurately portray the diversity of the black population in New York.  

Favors noted the importance of recognizing the racial impact of the Census. “The first time we show up on the Census is 1790, and that was only as three-fifths of a person,” Favors said, referring to the Three-Fifths Compromise under which slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person to determine the electoral representation of states. “And we understand that historically, there has been a persistent commitment to the racial manipulation of data so that the distribution of resources and political power are also manipulated in ways that benefit institutionalization of white supremacy and the structures that rely on white supremacy and that disfavor communities of African descent.” 

The roundtable was equally about the importance of counting black residents as it was about the importance of black media in bolstering that effort. “We need black media to raise their voices and participate in this conversation in a way that is going to allow our community to be properly educated and informed when there are fears that arise…The voice of black media has never been more important in my lifetime,” Favors said. 

Other panelists similarly urged members of the black media to tell their audiences what they stand to gain, or lose, from the Census. Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director of Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, noted that the Census is a race among states over the distribution of roughly $630 billion in federal funds. “It doesn’t matter what your income is, if you are undercounted, then your community is going to suffer,” she said. Her organization has been working with faith-based groups and leaders, who are seen as trusted voices in black communities, to ensure a robust response to the Census. 

L. Joy Williams, president of the Brooklyn NAACP, noted the need to break the myth of who is undercounted. African-American men, children under the age of 5 and seniors, for instance, are all at risk, she said. 

Sheena Wright, President and CEO of United Way of New York City, framed the Census as akin to the civil rights movement. “When I think about that people fought, bled, and died for our basic civil rights, that it's incumbent upon us to stand up and be counted. It's almost like an act of resistance. It's an act of what we're doing as black people really fighting for what we deserve,” she said, adding that sustained and vigorous mobilization of black communities would act as a “springboard” for greater civic engagement in the future.  

City officials have already laid the groundwork and are pursuing a massive Census outreach campaign this year, having put $40 million into a multi-pronged approach, which includes $19 million in direct funding for more than 150 community-based organizations. About $3 million will go to ads in ethnic and community media, comprising 65% of the total ad budget for the campaign. 

“We need New Yorkers to DIY the Census,” said Kathleen Daniel, field director for NYC Census 2020, at Monday’s roundtable, using shorthand for “do it yourself” and laying out the city’s tactics, which include a multimedia campaign across all forms of media, partnerships with city agencies, and a field campaign that has recruited thousands of volunteers to work in the hardest to count census tracts. 

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Menin. 

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated.

Engaging Black Media, City Looks to Boost Government Trust, Census Responsiveness in Black Communities Mon, 03 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Why Boosting Self-Response Rate is City's Census Holy Grail census app

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau undertakes the herculean task of counting the residents of the entire country. The process, which will occur this year, largely relies on people telling the federal government about themselves – who they are, who they live with, their age, their race, for instance -- in a count that has immense influence over how federal funding is allocated and congressional representation, among other things.

When people don’t respond to the Census questionnaire on their own, the Census Bureau (and its partners in states, cities, and other localities across the country) has to rely on other less accurate methods to complete the count, either in-person surveys or administrative measures.

Ahead of the launch of the 2020 Census in New York and across the country, leaders in New York City, which had a particularly low self-response rate in the 2010 Census, are emphasizing how important it is to get New Yorkers to participate in the initial round of questionnaires. Nearly all of the many tens of millions of city and state dollars allocated toward Census outreach is aimed at getting New Yorkers to fill out the Census as counting begins.

“Self-response is the gold standard in decennial census data collection and is the most accurate and efficient source of data,” say experts from the New York City Department of City Planning’s population division, in a new article in Significance magazine, which is published for the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association.

The authors – division director Arun Peter Lobo, chief demographer Joseph Salvo, and senior demographic scientist Annette Jacoby – seek to raise a red flag about the potential for a low self-response rate, which can have disastrous consequences, and outlined the ways the city and other jurisdictions can tackle the problem.

New York residents had a self-response rate of 62% in the 2010 Census, far below the national average of 76%, which subsequently led to a significant undercount of the state’s population. Black residents in particular had the lowest rates of returning the questionnaire and were more likely to be undercounted, the authors noted.

The city, and the state overall, is also home to several categories of hard-to-count populations – immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, seniors, children under the age of five, public housing residents, to name a few. In addition, this year’s Census will employ a largely digital methodology, risking undercounting of rural populations and other areas with limited internet access, and it comes amid a tense atmosphere where many immigrants fear the motivations of the Trump administration, which unsuccessfully tried to place a citizenship question on the Census but appears to be considering other ways to target citizenship information.

All of those factors add up to a challenging undertaking, and it's why the city has already put about $40 million towards Census outreach, much of it geared to ensuring a robust self-response rate.

“The census is a national competition for billions of dollars in federal funds for education, housing, healthcare, transportation — programs New Yorkers rely on every day. The fair distribution of these funds is only possible if all New Yorkers are counted," said Julie Menin, Director of NYC Census 2020, in a statement. “In 2010, only 62% of New Yorkers self-responded to the Census; far below the national average of 76%. This year, with our unprecedented $40 million NYC Complete Count Campaign, we’re going to achieve a complete and accurate count of all New Yorkers and ensure that we all get our fair share of the resources and representation that are rightfully ours.”

Lobo, Salvo, and Jacoby note that those who tend to self-respond at a lower rate are also less likely to respond to door-knockers from the Census. In areas where there is a low-response, the Census Bureau and localities have to rely on alternate tactics – enumerators who go door to door; administrative records to fill gaps in data; or statistical imputation as a last resort.

These methods have their faults. For instance, if an enumerator cannot reach the resident of a housing unit, they may ask a landlord or neighbor about their information. Information from these “proxies” is “often highly speculative and prone to error,” the authors wrote.

Administrative records can be replete with inaccuracies and incomplete data, particularly for more socially vulnerable populations, they noted. “People who interact with government agencies, have bank accounts, and deal with public institutions are more likely to be represented in administrative records, while more vulnerable populations – including immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, and homeless persons – might be underrepresented because of the absence of such ties,” they wrote. “Even administrative data on benefits for underrepresented and marginalised populations fall short of capturing everyone, as those eligible to receive these benefits often do not apply for them.”

Statistical imputation involves using the information from “donor households,” the neighbors of non-responding households, to make certain assumptions about the household in question. According to the article, this process, called “substitution,” accounted for 1.9% of the total enumerated U.S. population in 2010. “Substitution in New York City was at 3%, with the highest rates of substitution clustered in just a few black neighbourhoods, where as much as 20% of the population was “enumerated” through a substitution algorithm,” the authors noted. 

The flaws of that approach are obvious in a city like New York, where there is a broad diversity of households across the five boroughs.

The authors noted that there are two sides to an erroneous Census count – wealthier white residents tend to be overcounted while low-income residents of color tend to be undercounted. From a city planning perspective, the impact can be harmful to certain communities. “These lower-level geographic effects have real-life consequences in terms of conducting needs assessments, calculating rates of disease incidence, determining the distribution of resources and services, as well as the drawing of local political districts,” the city planners wrote.

The solutions the authors suggest – mobilizing “trusted voices” in immigrant communities and communities of color – are already being employed by city officials, who have doled out $19 million to community-based organizations to accomplish this goal. The authors also urge municipalities to hire non-citizen residents to conduct outreach, which would build confidence among immigrant communities and also provide interpreters.

“The finest operational plans and the best technology will not result in a good count,” they wrote, “unless the public heeds the call to answer the census.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Why Boosting Self-Response Rate is City's Census Holy Grail Sun, 02 Feb 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

Read more by this writer.

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
'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

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'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
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