census 2020

Making it Count: Immigration Advocates Seek Census Outreach Funding Boost

New York City Council representative Carlos Menchaca, who chairs the Council Committee on Immigration, speaks during a rally at City Hall about the 2020 Census, April 23, 2019.
New York City Council representative Carlos Menchaca, who chairs the Council Committee on Immigration, speaks during a rally at City Hall about the 2020 Census, April 23, 2019. Photo: Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

New Yorkers waged a battle to ensure an accurate 2020 Census count on two fronts Tuesday: the U.S. Supreme Court and City Hall.

As the nation’s highest tribunal heard arguments on the Trump administration’s plan to include a question about citizenship on the Census, immigration advocates rallied in New York – calling for $60 million in additional funding for count-related outreach.

“That is the kind of investment New York City needs to surmount the challenges we face,” said Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, a plaintiff in the lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

Choi spoke during a rally at City Hall, where advocates said more money is crucial — especially amid concerns a citizenship question would scare undocumented New Yorkers into skipping the Census.

They said resources are particularly needed in immigrant-filled neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. Kings County had the lowest response rate of any county in the state in the 2010 Census.

Fear Breeds Reluctance

Following the arguments before the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon, Julie Menin, whom Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed director of the Census for New York City in January, declared the citizenship question would put the integrity of the Census at risk.

“We have prevailed in District Court in our case against the citizenship question, and we believe that the facts and the law on our side,” Menin said in a statement to THE CITY.

In Williamsburg, where fewer than 60% of residents responded to the last Census in several areas, some long-time residents remained skeptical about filling out the Census.

“I don’t know how to read or write. I have a friend who does all that for me,” Raymond García Rodríguez, 55, told THE CITY in Spanish. “If she thinks something isn’t worth my time, she lets me know and throws it out.”

Luis Pérez, who moved from Ecuador to Williamsburg 27 years ago and works in construction, said he plans to sit out the 2020 Census.
Luis Pérez, who moved from Ecuador to Williamsburg 27 years ago and works in construction, said he plans to sit out the 2020 Census. Photo: Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

He said he has never filled out the Census, and doubts he’ll answer it next year.

Luis Pérez said he’s aware of the Census’ importance, but still plans to sit it out.

“If you don’t fill it out, you won’t count, but I can’t do it,” Luis Pérez, who moved from Ecuador to Williamsburg 27 years ago, told THE CITY in Spanish.

Violeta Montalvo, of Astoria, said she’ll respond to the Census just as she has during the 40 years she’s lived in the city.

“I filled it out when I wasn’t a citizen, and I’m filling it out now,” said Montalvo, who is from the Dominican Republic. “It doesn’t matter. If you don’t do it, you don’t count.”

Stakes – and Funding Requests – are High

Immigration advocates are hoping they can count on more money for Census outreach, education and translation services. But it’s an uphill battle.

In the recently enacted $175.5 billion state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of the Legislature agreed to allocate $20 million for Census outreach — half of what advocates requested. By comparison, California reportedly may spend up to $150 million on Census outreach.

At the City Hall rally on Tuesday morning, lawmakers and activists called for an additional $20 million in funding from the state and $40 million from the city.

“These are unprecedented, first-time efforts that we haven’t seen in the past,” said Jeffrey Wice, a senior advisor to New York Counts 2020, who helped create the first non-partisan census count committee in New York in 1990.

The stakes are high: After the 2010 Census, the state lost two congressional districts, going from a delegation of 29 to 27. Researchers warn that the state is on track to lose an additional two seats in the next reapportionment in 2022 due to the state’s population loss.

The Census also count could affect public services funded by the federal government, like Section 8 housing assistance programs, Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In 2010, the state for the first time allocated $2 million for community groups and local outreach. The city, under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, didn’t include any funding for Census outreach. Instead, philanthropic and private foundations doled out grants to community groups for outreach, according to Wice.

That same year, the federal government provided funding to community-based organizations, as part of the stimulus packages that stemmed from the 2008 economic crisis. But it does not typically give funding for community organizations.

“We call on the governor and mayor to do what they can do: to allocate funds for media, translation service, education,” said Rachel Bloom, the director of public policy at Citizens Union. “That is what we can and do have power over.”

In lead up to Census 2020, we want to better understand what New Yorkers want and need to know about it. So we have two questions for you to answer:

1. What questions do you have about the census? (Even if it’s simply: What does the census even do?)

2. What obstacles get in the way from finding these things out? (For example: Government or media mistrust? Just too busy? Don’t know where to start?)

Answer these two questions by emailing tparris@thecity.nyc or text, WhatsApp, Signal (718) 866-8674.

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