Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1237 Wed, 28 Oct 2020 21:01:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) New York City Overcomes Obstacles to Outperform 2020 Census Projections https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9844-new-york-city-overcomes-obstacles-outperform-2020-census-rate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9844-new-york-city-overcomes-obstacles-outperform-2020-census-rate NYC 2020 Census

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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New York City Overcomes Obstacles to Outperform 2020 Census Projections Tue, 20 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Respuestas Al Censo Varían Bastante Entre Las Comunidades Latinas De La Ciudad https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9777-las-tasas-de-respuesta-al-censo-2020-varian-ampliamente-entre-las-comunidades-latinas-de-la-ciudad https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9777-las-tasas-de-respuesta-al-censo-2020-varian-ampliamente-entre-las-comunidades-latinas-de-la-ciudad 4 census rally park

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Por Felipe De La Hoz para Gotham Gazette.

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

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

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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Respuestas Al Censo Varían Bastante Entre Las Comunidades Latinas De La Ciudad Sun, 27 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Crunch Time for New York Census Count as September 30 Deadline Looms and Numbers Lag https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9726-crunch-time-new-york-2020-census-september-30-deadline-respond https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9726-crunch-time-new-york-2020-census-september-30-deadline-respond 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.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Crunch Time for New York Census Count as September 30 Deadline Looms and Numbers Lag Tue, 01 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
U.S. Census Bureau Resumes Limited Field Operations in New York and NYC Continues Outreach While State Remains MIA https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9445-us-census-bureau-field-operations-city-outreach-while-state-cuomo-mia-2020-census https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9445-us-census-bureau-field-operations-city-outreach-while-state-cuomo-mia-2020-census 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.]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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U.S. Census Bureau Resumes Limited Field Operations in New York and NYC Continues Outreach While State Remains MIA Thu, 28 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Coronavirus Shows Just How Much the Census Counts https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9370-coronavirus-shows-how-much-2020-census-counts-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9370-coronavirus-shows-how-much-2020-census-counts-new-york pickupmeals

Federal aid to New York City is even more urgent than ever (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


While many of our daily activities remain on hold, the 2020 Census must still be taken and completed this year. Not only is it required by the U.S. Constitution, but there is a tremendous amount at stake for New York, including billions of dollars in federal aid, a fair allocation of seats in Congress, and accurate representation in state and local government. From road repairs to education and social services, over 300 federal programs are driven by census data.

Through my work at New York Law School and the statewide New York Counts 2020 census coalition, I have been collaborating with New Yorkers on best practices and strategies to ensure an accurate census count. What we cannot overlook—especially now—is that the census is critical to protecting us from future pandemics. An accurate census count is crucial to securing enough hospitals, medical facilities, doctors, nurses and medical supplies so that we’ll never again see the kinds of shortages we are seeing today. That’s because health care providers, insurance companies, and government officials all make important decisions on where to provide resources and assistance based on census data.

Unfortunately, while this year’s count is especially important, it’s also far more challenging than any in our country’s history. And right now, New York is lagging behind other states. As of May 8, only 52.4 percent of New York State’s households have responded in the first few weeks of the census counting process, placing New York 42nd among the 50 states.

The census has never been a perfect count. In fact, well before COVID-19 struck, the Urban Institute estimated that New York could be undercounted by 313,700 people this year. That’s almost half the population of one of our congressional districts. 

But COVID-19 puts us in danger of a far more severe undercount that will impact our state for years to come. Some of lowest response rates are in communities hit hardest by COVID-19, the result of income and racial inequality. These are the same areas that have also been historically undercounted and neglected, and without an accurate count, they will not receive adequate government support.

Everyone has a role to play in the solution: our government leaders, community organizations, experts, and fellow New Yorkers. Since person-to-person outreach cannot take place, outreach groups must rely on text messages, phone banking, emails, Zoom sessions, and postering to reach communities that have been historically undercounted. I’m encouraged to see several areas asking grocery stores and other essential businesses to place 2020 Census flyers in bags as a reminder. These are the kinds of actions we need now.

While I applaud the U.S. Census Bureau for extending the counting period until October 31, with so much uncertainty due to COVID-19, this still may not be enough time. If census workers are not able to visit homes directly, then we will need to build new strategies to reach people through social distancing, media, and other creative methods never tried before.

With so much at stake depending on an accurate census, everyone who can respond must do so. Census information cannot be shared with any other government agency, and there is no citizenship question. It’s easy to fill out and can be done online, over the phone, or by mail.

Now more than ever, answer the census. Take 10 minutes to answer 10 questions, which will help New York for 10 years.

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Jeffrey M. Wice is an Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow at New York Law School and head of the school’s New York Census and Redistricting Institute. On Twitter @JeffWice.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Coronavirus Shows Just How Much the Census Counts Mon, 11 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Community Groups Shift Strategies After Coronavirus Blows Up Census Outreach Plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9291-community-groups-shift-strategies-coronavirus-2020-census-outreach-plans-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9291-community-groups-shift-strategies-coronavirus-2020-census-outreach-plans-new-york-city 2020 census new york city

Coronavirus has shifted Census efforts (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The New York Public Library had set up dedicated chromebook computers that only connected to the 2020 Census website. The Brooklyn Public Library prepared “mobile units” of internet-connected tablets that could be dispatched to community centers and groups. Outreach employees from the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC) and SOMOS Community Care were starting to canvas areas of upper Manhattan to help passersby understand the benefits of participating in the once-a-decade count, and collect pledge cards to follow up with people.

The Boro Park Jewish Community Council had used some of the money it received from the city’s Complete Count Fund to buy a “censusmobile” — a van covered with messages in English and Yiddish and outfitted with computers that would drive around the heavily Jewish area of Brooklyn, letting residents learn about and even complete the Census.

Now, the libraries and community centers are closed, the mobile units and the canvassers are staying inside, and the censusmobile is parked and unused as the Jewish Community Council has shuttered its main office.

The arrival of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has quickly upended life around the globe, and the multifaceted outreach operations for the crucial decennial count of every person and household in the United States have not been exempted. Every level of government, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations have all had to significantly shift their strategies in response.

This has meant partly toggling to established digital tools like phone- and text-banking, facilitated by the New York City census office, which has had robust funding and outreach plans that have been shifted amid the outbreak. María Guzmán-Colón, the census manager at NMIC, said that with the nonprofit’s outreach staff grounded, most of those operations were being done via text, with “a list that [the city] provides for us as well as a list that we provided of our contacts, and people that we had gotten pledge cards from” before in-person operations stopped.

But many organizations have also been striving to think outside the box. “We've kind of felt that [text-banking] is an inefficient way of reaching people,” said Howard Shih, research and policy director at the Asian American Federation. “You can't really figure out if the number you're texting is somebody that is ‘hard to count.’”

Instead, the Asian American Federation has been focusing on identifying where hard-to-count communities already are online and reaching them there. “In the Korean community, KaKaoTalk is heavily used. For mainland Chinese, it's WeChat…I live up here in Westchester, and I know that there's a specific WeChat group for Westchester Chinese to trade information and resources,” said Shih. “We kind of have to find a person that's already in that network to be our champion.”

The strategy of reaching community influencers and enlisting ordinary New Yorkers to contact those they are still able to reach has become a centerpiece of the new census game plans. “You can make a poster at home if you have the materials, drop it off at your local bodega, and encourage them to put it up, because they are still open, and they are still community centers for a lot of people,” said Meeta Anand, the New York Immigration Coalition’s 2020 Census senior fellow. “I've been saying ‘think big but act small.’ And by that I mean, if you live in a building, write a note to the residents of your building. If there's a church or a mosque you go to, reach out to the leader and see if they're willing to include census messaging in however they're reaching out to their congregants.”

The main idea behind these pushes is that, as New Yorkers stare down what could be months of social distancing, they will not stop seeking community, and will find that community either in very specialized groups online or in hyperlocal spaces. Getting census messaging to influential people who are in these spaces then lets the word keep trickling out. “Instagram Live is becoming a huge space,” said Anand. The New York Immigration Coalition has been encouraging people to make videos of themselves filling out the Census, and “create them in their language, send them around. We’re asking anyone who might know any influencer at all, at any level, to create such a video,” Anand said.

Shih called it a “period of experimentation” for community organizations trying to do outreach. “People still want to connect socially, right? They just have to do it in a socially-distant way. The challenge for us is, people are adjusting their behaviors now, and they really haven't settled into a specific pattern of behavior so that we can actually figure out where people are getting their information, where people are keeping in touch with their loved ones. So we just have to try to pay attention, have discussions, and figure out what's been working,” he said.

Many of these organizations are still service providers, after all, and still being sought out for advice and support on matters of housing, employment, immigration, and other community concerns. They are responding to this need with virtual town halls or Q-and-A sessions on Facebook or other digital tools, and can use these opportunities to convey the importance of the Census, which determines many billions of dollars in funding every year, a state’s representation in Congress, and much more.

Once people have been convinced to complete the Census, there’s the question of where they do it. While there’s been much discussion around the U.S. Census Bureau’s efforts to shift the count mostly online — a strategy that community groups worried would exclude hard-to-count communities with inconsistent access to broadband internet and the hardware to use it — a separate, little-noticed innovation has actually proven auspicious: the ability to fill the Census form out by phone.

“That was already in place, luckily, so when we reach out to folks at home, if they don't happen to have a smartphone, or if they don't have a laptop, or there's some sort of technical gap, there is the phone option,” said Guzmán-Colón.

“The online option does pose a challenge for certain groups,” said Anand. ”And it's true that our way of overcoming that challenge was going to be ‘go to the library,’ which doesn't work so much anymore. So, we are encouraging people who want to fill out the census to do it over the phone.”

The system is available in 13 widely-used languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), and Arabic. The organizations that Gotham Gazette connected with all said the system appears to be working well, with the only gripe being slightly longer wait times for languages other than English and Spanish.

Though the pandemic has blown up outreach plans, there are some silver linings. For one, it provides a ready-made opportunity to relate the Census directly to New Yorkers’ lived reality, as its data is what ultimately undergirds the government’s response. “Every time they say we need 100,000 ventilators, that's based on the fact that there are X number of people in New York City, and their models are predicting how many people are going to be infected based on that information…If you're at home feeling powerless, here’s something that you can do right away that'll have an impact on the community,” said Shih of the Asian American Federation.

Moisés Pérez-Martínez, vice president of workforce, community and government relations at SOMOS Community Care — a healthcare network with 2,500 providers across Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx — said that providers are emphasizing that filling out the Census early is a great way to avoid further mailings and in-person visits. “We tell them, ‘the Census will go knock on your door if you don't respond to it, and if you don't want that for whatever reason, fill out the Census and they won’t come,’” he said.

“[The count] determines health care funding, it determines funding for first responders, it goes into decisions as to where hospitals are going to be based,” said Anand. When the organization has run its text-a-thons, she said that some community members had expressed annoyance, saying there were bigger concerns right now than the Census. She responds by saying she understands it’s a tough time for everyone, but it doesn’t help to hamstring the country’s ability to respond to such crises.

Health-related groups like SOMOS have unexpectedly found themselves in a unique position to continue raising census awareness, as one of the few types of community organizations that not only haven’t shut down but are even more present in people’s lives. “Every single day, in every single medical practice, there's a different audience,” said Pérez-Martínez. The organization actually filmed short information videos about the count, featuring its doctors, which play in waiting rooms alongside other announcements.

The varied strategies have yet to coalesce into a clear unified agenda, though Shih said that community groups around New York are constantly sharing tips, experiences, and best practices. In the meantime, New York City’s self-response rates have been low but still relatively encouraging given the city’s 2010 rates. As of April 4, only a few weeks into the count, the city’s self-response rate was 33.4%, while it was 38.3% for the state, and 43.9% across the country, according to the CUNY Mapping Service's census project. In 2010 New York City’s self-response rate finished at just 62%, compared to 76% for the country.

“We're lagging. That's not surprising,” said Anand. “We’ve always had an uphill battle in New York, and being at the epicenter of COVID-19, that makes the uphill even steeper. But I think what we will see is, once we get through an initial phase of people figuring out how they're going to provide services, what does this new world look like, more and more organizations are going to be able to get that census messaging out and we will start seeing a change in the response rates. New Yorkers have pulled together before. And we're pulling together now, we just have to do it six feet apart from each other.”

[Read: City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus - and Reports Good Initial News]

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Community Groups Shift Strategies After Coronavirus Blows Up Census Outreach Plans Tue, 07 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
State Allocates Another $10 Million, But Census Efforts Appear Stalled https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9282-state-allocates-another-10-million-but-census-efforts-appear-stalled https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9282-state-allocates-another-10-million-but-census-efforts-appear-stalled New York 2020 census

Gov. Cuomo at a state census conference in January (photo: Governor's Office)


Before the coronavirus overwhelmed New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo wanted the equivalent of a $70 million effort to ensure that New Yorkers are accurately counted in this year’s Census. That was to include $10 million just appropriated in the state budget approved this past week. But the plans behind the Cuomo administration’s census campaign remain vague at best and nonexistent at worst as the state struggles to combat the coronavirus outbreak that hit after New York state government was already behind in its census efforts.

Before the $10 million just added in the new budget, the state was meant to spend the equivalent of $40 million in agency operations directed at the Census, with various state departments and entities said to be developing plans for how to best encourage the census participation that is so key to the state’s ability to achieve an accurate count and secure many billions of dollars in federal funding and appropriate representation in Congress.

The remaining $20 million had already been included in last year’s budget for direct grants to counties and community-based organizations that can reach hard-to-count populations, but there’s no indication it has been spent.

Despite repeated queries from Gotham Gazette over the last two weeks, spokespeople in the governor’s office and the New York Division of Budget, which reports to the governor, have provided no new information about the status of the state’s census efforts, including what impact the coronavirus has had. The only plans they provided are from before the outbreak, and mostly involve public-facing activities by state agencies that have become practically impossible or pointless to implement given the state’s near-shutdown due to the pandemic.

With the important 2020 Census self-response period now well underway, there is no indication that the state has awarded the $20 million in grants, fully developed the promised agency plans, or altered operations in light of the coronavirus fallout. This stands in stark contrast to both the U.S. Census Bureau and New York City, both of which have laid out clear plans and announced alterations to them as the outbreak unfolded.

As he’s dealt with the coronavirus crisis and negotiated the new state budget, Governor Cuomo has made only passing mention of the Census in recent weeks, at an April 1 news conference, when he encouraged New Yorkers to fill out the census questionnaire.

City and federal officials have noted in recent days that it has never been more important to fill out the Census. The decennial population count goes a long way toward determining levels of federal funding that the state receives for everything from education and infrastructure to social welfare programs. In a public health emergency like the one facing New York right now, census data is invaluable in deciding where emergency responses need to be targeted. The census is also the basis for drawing electoral districts, which in turn dictates how many seats the state will hold in the House of Representatives.

The $20 million grant fund has been in limbo for months. The funding was meant to be distributed based on a report by a state commission formed by the governor and legislative leaders. The commission was created past its deadline and issued a report after months of delay. The money was finally meant to be awarded starting March 10, but the state has given no indication that the money has gone out. A Division of Budget spokesperson referred Gotham Gazette to Empire State Development for information on the funding, then ESD referred the query to the governor’s office, which did not provide any new information.

If people were not mostly confined to their homes given the coronavirus outbreak, state agencies might have had success in ensuring that a wide swathe of New Yorkers were aware of the Census and the value of filling it out, though that would have in part been determined by the various agency plans that have not been made public. The effort is being coordinated by a cross-agency workgroup, according to the Division of Budget.

For instance, the Department of Motor Vehicles would have displayed census ads at its offices across the state, visited by 12 million people every year. Those offices are now closed indefinitely. The MTA planned on running ads on digital screens and distributing census literature at subway platforms and in buses. At monthly customer forums, Metro-North Railroad employees would have distributed flyers and handouts with census information. Station Managers would have done the same as they greeted customers as part of the “Station Talk” initiative. But many millions fewer people are taking public transportation these days.

State agency offices were broadly meant to be part of the effort including the Office of New Americans, the Division of Licensing, the Division of Consumer Protection, the Division of Community Services, the state Athletic Commission, and others. It’s not clear if any of them are doing anything with regard to the Census, even in the coronavirus reality.

Some outreach avenues may still be available as most government services move online-only and the Census is digital-first for the first time ever.

There are about 19.5 million visits to the DMV’s website every year while the agency also has a database of 4 million email addresses – the homepage includes a link to the Census website but nothing more. According to the original plans, the state Department of Taxation & Finance will send out 16 million “informational flashers” through the mail that will this year mention the 2020 Census.

In contrast with the state, New York City launched a far-reaching $40 million effort to count every resident of the city, well over 8 million people estimated to be about 43% of the state’s 19.4 million population. The city awarded $19 million of that money in December to community-based organizations that are considered “trusted voices” in ensuring that people who may otherwise not respond or are wary of the government are accurately counted. The city also quickly pivoted when the coronavirus made on-the-ground operations unfeasible. The city census office renegotiated advertising contracts with the MTA, for instance, as ridership was plummeting and reinvested it into various forms of media that can reach people in their homes, and moved from in-person event plans to digital forums and text-banking.

Laying the early groundwork has also shown some positive results, as the rate of self-response in the first week after the Census launched was higher than in 2010. [Read: City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus — and Reports Good Initial News]

As of April 4, just a few weeks into the count, the city’s self-response rate was 33.4%, the state’s 38.3%, and the national rate 43.9%, according to the CUNY Mapping Service’s Census tracking project. The New York numbers have been somewhat encouraging to officials who hope New York City will be above its low 62% self-response rate in sum for 2010, which compared to 76% for the country.

The current self-response phase, the most important of the Census effort, is now due to last through August 14 after the U.S. Census Bureau made initial adjustments to account for coronavirus’ impact.

[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.]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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State Allocates Another $10 Million, But Census Efforts Appear Stalled Sun, 05 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'The Good Thing is Self-Response Hasn't Stopped': Census Bureau’s New York Regional Director on the 2020 Count Amid Coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9278-2020-census-self-response-new-york-count-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9278-2020-census-self-response-new-york-count-coronavirus 2020 census homepage screenshot

2020 Census website to fill out the questionnaire


The U.S. Census Bureau faced a behemoth of an undertaking this year: counting each and every resident across the country’s 50 states and various territories. It’s a task that’s carried out every ten years and requires years of planning and untold levels of individual and collective effort, and can still end up being inaccurate. And all that was before the coronavirus pandemic sent the nation into disarray. 

The decennial Census count determines where and how the federal government allocates hundreds of billions in funding and determines the number of seats that states hold in the House of Representatives, making it of utmost importance for states. For New York, home to many “hard-to-count” populations and on the decline in terms of population and seats in Congress, an accurate count is all the more essential. 

The coronavirus has forced officials at all levels of government to drastically alter census operations. Field programs, planned for the second phase of the Census after the initial self-response period, have been suspended. Outreach campaigns have doubled down on messaging through digital and social media. The U.S. Census Bureau usually hires hundreds of thousands of enumerators across the country to knock on doors and follow up with households that haven’t responded. That hiring has been frozen. 

But there’s still hope. A predominantly digital methodology means the Census is easier than ever to fill out. Self-response continues and the deadline has been extended.  

In an interview on Wednesday, Jeff Behler, director for the Census Bureau's New York Regional Office, sounded a note of optimism while emphasizing that the Bureau has its work cut out for it. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected Census operations?

“We stopped all [hiring] because the public health and the health of our employees is of utmost importance. But the good thing is self-response hasn't stopped and that's the great thing about the 2020 Census. You can still go online, you could still fill it out, or call it in over the phone, or if you receive a paper questionnaire in that first mail-out, fill it out, mail it back in. And beginning April 8, we will be mailing paper questionnaires to every household that has yet to respond to the Census. And that's still on track. We're still able to do that. And that's the plan...until we get to the point in the environment in our communities where it's safe to start interactions again in public. Before we ever get to the point where we can knock on doors again, we're going to continue to work with our partners on getting people to self respond.”

“We're calling every applicant that has applied for a census job. We're calling as a courtesy to let them know, ‘Hey, our hiring has been suspended. You're still going to be considered. We ask for your patience, and oh by the way, have you filled out your census?”

On the importance of filling out the Census during a pandemic...

“I was just on a webinar where the Mayor of Syracuse was talking about what better way to support your community right now during this pandemic than to help out the future of our health systems, our hospitals, our emergency services by filling out your census, and ensuring your neighbors get counted, that your coworkers and people you may worship with, that they also fill out the census. That's a great way to support our communities so that we have enough hospital beds, we have enough emergency service personnel, we have enough clinics and hospitals or vaccines available based upon the true population numbers.”

Are there any encouraging signs around the early self-response, particularly in New York?

“I think New York State’s at 31.1%. That's amazing. Given that New York City is the epicenter of this whole pandemic, for roughly a third of households to go online or to call us over the phone or fill it out on paper is amazing...There's a lot a lot of counting left to do but this is a great start, and our partners and the Census Bureau, we're not pushing a pause button right now just because of this pandemic. We're reengineering the things that we can do with the resources we have to continue to push people to self respond.”

New York City came to an agreement to share homeless shelter data with the Census Bureau for the first time to aid in the count. How is that working?

“When you get a city like New York that was able to pull that data together from so many different shelters, that's huge. Because especially at a time like this, shelters will not open their doors to us in a month from now or maybe even two months from now because the pandemic may still be there. So it just shows the urgency and the willingness that New York City has to ensure they get a complete and accurate count.”

What about the street homeless?

“Actually we would have gone out at 12:01 a.m. this morning and conducted a homeless count for people who aren't staying in shelters, who aren’t staying in group homes. These are people who are living in the woods or in the forest or on a park bench. So we'll still be conducting that operation. The timing of that operation's still yet to be determined. We have to figure that out because we can't go out at a time where the public's health is at risk.”

On counting university students that live off campus...

“Just about every school in our region…has gone to virtual school for the rest of the semester. So many kids, both on campus and off campus, now live at home with their parents, whether that's in a different state or whether it's a different city within the state. We need to make sure those students get counted where they usually live or stay at college. So we're working with college universities. We feel confident in the way we count students who live in college and in dormitories. It’s those off campus students that we're [concerned about].”

[You can fill out the 2020 Census here]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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'The Good Thing is Self-Response Hasn't Stopped': Census Bureau’s New York Regional Director on the 2020 Count Amid Coronavirus Thu, 02 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'Census Day' is Here; What to Know as the 2020 Count Proceeds https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9266-census-day-what-to-know-2020-count-proceeds-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9266-census-day-what-to-know-2020-count-proceeds-new-york cm carlina rivera press

2020 Census Day is here; many New Yorkers have already filled out the Census (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


It’s officially “Census Day” -- April 1 -- and though the decennial population count began two weeks ago, by now virtually all households across the United States should have received some form of notification from the U.S. Census Bureau informing them of the ways they can fill out the demographic questionnaire. Census Day itself is more of a marker, not a deadline, to rally people to fill out the questionnaire and the date at which households should count their members.

But as 2020 Census Day is recognized, the process this year has been marred by the coronavirus outbreak, forcing city, state, and federal officials to course-correct to ensure that each and every resident of the country is counted.

The Census determines levels of federal funding that states receive for all manner of programs, from nutrition assistance for low-income families and children’s health care to education, transportation, infrastructure, and more. It also determines how many seats each state gets in the the U.S. House of Representatives, and forms the basis for drawing electoral districts for municipalities, state legislatures, and the House.

After a very poor showing on self-response rates and a likely undercount of the city’s and state’s populations in 2010, New York leaders have put much more focus on and funding into the 2020 effort, to varying degrees. New York City government in particular has dedicated a great deal of energy and money into the effort to count its population, especially its many “hard-to-count” communities and demographics. The state’s efforts have lagged, and the federal government has been underfunding the Census Bureau (and Trump administration officials attempted to add a citizenship question that does not appear on the form but may have instilled additional fear of filling it out among many immigrants).

The Census can be filled out online, which is predominantly the methodology being prioritized this year. Most households will have received a digital code from the Census Bureau, though it is not necessary for filling out the questionnaire. The Census can also be filled out on the phone by calling 844-330-2020 or through a paper questionnaire mailed out by the Census Bureau, though only a limited number of households received those in the mail.

On March 12, the initial self-response phase of the Census began. As of March 31, according to the CUNY Mapping Service’s Census project, 31.1% of New Yorkers have already answered the ten questions asked by the Census, compared with the nationwide average of 36.2% so far. City officials were encouraged when the response rate by the end of the first week of the self-response phase was higher than it was at the same time ten years ago. Even now, the rate by March 31 was about the same as 2010 despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak. 

In 2010, New York State’s overall self-response rate was about 76%, nearly the same as the national average, while New York City’s rate was only 62%. The low-self response rates in the past are indicative of the concentrations of hard-to-count populations in New York, including seniors, children under the age of 5, homeless people, public housing residents, predominantly African-American communities, Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, individuals who cannot speak English or have limited English proficiency, amond others.

New York City is estimated to be home to about 8.4 million people, according to the latest Census data available, about 43% of the state’s 19.4 million population.

Officials have also had to overhaul their plans for conducting census outreach, as the coronavirus has brought the state, and particularly the city, to a near standstill. New York City benefited from having worked for months on a broad outreach campaign, with $40 million allocated by the de Blasio administration and the City Council to fund the entire effort. That included $19 million in grants to 157 community-based organizations to reach hard-to-count communities directly.

The city census office recently held a two-day text-banking campaign, with 700 volunteers reaching nearly a million New Yorkers directly, it reported. Of all the people texted, 116,159 replied, and of them, 35,116 had already completed the Census while another 4,925 promised to do so, the office said. They also released a new PSA featuring Bronx-native rapper Cardi B that’s running on TV and digital media.

But the city was forced to suspend all in-person outreach, which is particularly necessary for the second phase of the Census – the enumeration phase, which involves people hired by the Census Bureau to knock on doors and seek responses from those households that fail to self-respond. Enumeration can yield inaccurate data and is already a daunting task without the limitations posed by the coronavirus. The city has instead redoubled its efforts to reach people digitally, through television, radio, and print ads shifting money away from other pre-pandemic plans. Phone- and text-banking have replaced on-the-ground pleas to fill out the Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau also cancelled its field operations till at least April 1, and extended the self-response deadline from July 31 to August 14. New York State, however, has been playing catch up on its census efforts for well over a year. The governor promised a $60-million effort that involved public-facing activities by state agencies, which never seemed to get off the ground and now mostly cannot because of the coronavirus. Of that funding, $20 million was meant to be distributed to community organizations but has not yet been doled out.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

note - This article has been updated to clarify that the self-response rate as of March 31 is nearly the same as it was in 2010.

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'Census Day' is Here; What to Know as the 2020 Count Proceeds Tue, 31 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus — and Reports Good Initial News https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9240-new-york-city-reconfigures-2020-census-efforts-coronavirus-reports-good-news https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9240-new-york-city-reconfigures-2020-census-efforts-coronavirus-reports-good-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.]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Reconfigures 2020 Census Efforts in Response to Coronavirus — and Reports Good Initial News Wed, 25 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000