2020 Census https://www.gothamgazette.com/special-projects/2020-census Tue, 04 Aug 2020 05:17:35 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo Re-Launches State Census Efforts https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9634-cuomo-re-launches-state-2020-census-effort-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9634-cuomo-re-launches-state-2020-census-effort-new-york gov cuomo vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo Re-Launches State Census Efforts Tue, 28 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Congressional Reps Release New Report Underscoring Importance of Complete NYC Census Count https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9527-congressional-reps-release-new-report-underscoring-importance-of-accurate-nyc-census-count https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9527-congressional-reps-release-new-report-underscoring-importance-of-accurate-nyc-census-count mayor rally elected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Congressional Reps Release New Report Underscoring Importance of Complete NYC Census Count Wed, 24 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Coronavirus Ravaged New York's Budget and Made Your Census Participation More Important Than Ever https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9477-coronavirus-ravaged-new-york-budgets-made-your-census-participation-more-important-than-ever https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9477-coronavirus-ravaged-new-york-budgets-made-your-census-participation-more-important-than-ever appt julie dirce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

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.

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

Coronavirus Shows Just How Much the Census Counts Mon, 11 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As 2020 Count Proceeds, New York State Census Plans Haven't Launched https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9376-2020-count-proceeds-new-york-state-census-plans-not-launched https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9376-2020-count-proceeds-new-york-state-census-plans-not-launched gov cuomo census

Gov. Cuomo at the NY Census Conference (photo: governor's office)

According to plans, New York state government would have spent the equivalent of $70 million this year on its effort to ensure that all New Yorkers are counted in the 2020 Census. But as the state has experienced a devastating coronavirus outbreak, that effort has, for all appearances, never gotten off the ground, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has done little to inform residents that it is in their best interest and that of the entire state to fill out the Census.

The decennial population count, mandated by the United States Constitution, determines the amount of federal funding states receive for all manner of programs from children’s insurance and food stamps to transit infrastructure and public housing. It also forms the basis for drawing electoral districts at the local, state, and federal levels, dictating how many seats each state will hold in the House of Representatives for the next decade.

Owing to the pandemic, city, state, and federal officials have been forced to cancel on-the-ground efforts to conduct outreach and to physically count households. Instead, they are focused on ensuring a greater self-response rate, particularly since the Census can be filled out online, making it easier to be counted than in previous censuses. (It can also be filled out by phone and through a paper questionnaire that the U.S. Census Bureau mailed to every household that did not respond online or by phone by April 8). The self-response deadline was also extended from July 31 to October 31.

But, among New York’s population are many “hard-to-count” communities, which tend not to respond to the census on their own in large numbers, either because of a general mistrust of government, apathy, or unfamiliarity with the process. They include seniors, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants (particularly the undocumented), people experiencing homelessness, public housing residents, and others. Those segments of the population all tend to be undercounted, which also means they lose funding for valuable services and their voices in the political process. Already, because of a loss of population over the last ten years, New York could lose one Congressional seat, and two in the case of a severe undercount.

New York is already lagging behind. As of May 9, the state’s self-response rate was 52.7%, compared to a national rate of 58.3%, according to the CUNY Mapping Service’s Census data project.

Now more than ever, because of the coronavirus, activists have stressed the need for a broad campaign to make New Yorkers aware of the importance of filling out the Census. Federal funding for health care programs and social services will be vital after the pandemic passes. For future outbreaks and other crises, census data will be indispensable. For instance, during last year’s measles outbreak in New York City, health officials relied on census information to decide where vaccinations were needed.

New York City took heed of this urgency well before the pandemic. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and the City Council together committed $40 million to outreach, with $19 million awarded to community-based organizations that could reach hard-to-count populations on the ground and millions more in advertising and other efforts. After the pandemic hit, they quickly suspended all in-person outreach and shifted strategies, launching phone-banking and text-banking efforts, and altered an ad campaign that was already in the works.

New York State has shown none of the same commitment, even though Governor Cuomo and the Legislature added another $10 million in census outreach funding in the state budget that was passed in April. The state had intended on providing $20 million in grants to nonprofits around the state, money that had been appropriated a year prior, in April 2019, but delayed the grant process till even after the 2020 Census count had already begun. When the coronavirus outbreak began, not a single dollar had gone out.

Cuomo also announced in November that state agencies would be committing $40 million worth of their time and other resources to ensuring a full count, but those agency-by-agency plans, which the governor said would be formed and pledged to release publicly, do not appear to exist -- recent Gotham Gazette requests for them have been ignored.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in order to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers, the federal government and New York State have suspended in person census outreach at this time,” said Kristin Devoe, a spokesperson for Empire State Development, the state quasi-agency that is now overseeing the grant process. “The State remains committed to ensuring a complete and accurate count and will be advancing media outreach targeted at our hard to count populations. Every New Yorker counts and ESD hopes to safely restart the NYS 2020 Census Complete Count Outreach Grant funding as soon as possible.”

Devoe said the grants had not been awarded because they were meant for in-person outreach, which is effectively impossible at this point during the pandemic. “Until we can safely have face to face interactions, this grant is on hold for public health reasons,” she said.

The state census effort had earlier been under the auspices of the Department of State and Division of Budget. There is also meant to be a work group coordinating agency plans. But, despite repeated requests, state officials have not provided any details of how those plans have evolved after the outbreak. Devoe also did not say why ESD is now in charge of the process or respond when asked about who sits on the workgroup and who leads it. There is no public information to suggest the workgroup exists. The governor’s office did not respond to a separate request for comment. 

Activists who have spent the last two years preparing for the Census, and are still doing all they can to spread awareness of it and encourage New Yorkers to fill it out, have been disappointed by the state’s lack of commitment.

“It's unfortunate. Obviously, the funds would be necessary at this point and certain areas of the state, we know they are not doing the work just because they don't have the money to do the work,” said Meeta Anand, Census 2020 Senior Fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition, a statewide organization that advocates for immigrants. NYIC is a member of NY Counts 2020, a statewide coalition formed to ensure an accurate census count.

Anand noted that with the self-response deadline extended, the state could dole out the $20 million in grants to help community-based organizations conduct the types of outreach that New York City and its grantees have turned to, including phone-banking and text-banking. “There's still a lot of time to turn this around and get New York out of the basement,” she said.

As Anand noted, Cuomo has spent weeks criticizing the federal government and Republicans in Congress for their recalcitrance in bailing out New York from the fiscal devastation of the coronavirus. He has repeatedly pointed out that New York sends billions of dollars more in tax revenue to the federal government than the federal funding it receives every year. An accurate census would help mend that imbalance. “He's the governor of New York and he wants us to have our fair share of resources. I'd like to believe that he cares, but I would need to see some words and action to give me that belief,” Anand said.

In January, Cuomo kicked off state census operations and created a Census Council -- headed by Martin Luther King III, Lucy Liu, and Lin-Manuel Miranda -- to convene conferences and direct census outreach. “As this federal administration continues to disenfranchise immigrant communities and use every means possible to stop them from filling out this year’s Census questionnaire, we are taking aggressive actions to ensure every single New Yorker is counted,” Cuomo said at the time. He has since fallen silent on the issue and it’s not clear the council has done anything.

Rachel Bloom, director of public policy at Citizens Union, a government reform group, and a member of the steering committee of NY Counts 2020, reiterated the governor’s relative indifference to the Census. “He's never been that invested in the Census,” she said. “I think that’s evidenced by the fact that he has these press conferences every day where he talks for an extended period, he has an enormous platform, and he hasn't yet discussed the Census.”

Besides a simple “fill out the census” message at his daily briefings, Bloom said the state could be doing much more even in the current circumstances. “People are interacting with the government more than ever,” she said, citing the millions of people filing for unemployment insurance and the many thousands lining up at food pantries. “They're getting government services more than ever,” Bloom said, “so it’s a ripe opportunity in those interactions to remind people to fill out the Census.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
As 2020 Count Proceeds, New York State Census Plans Haven't Launched Sun, 10 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]

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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.]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

'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.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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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.

'Census Day' is Here; What to Know as the 2020 Count Proceeds Tue, 31 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000