Capital for the Count

The state needs to step it up.

Members of New York’s Congressional delegation are calling on the state to allocate an additional $40 million in the budget to perform outreach for the 2020 Census.

At a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Adriano Espaillat, Grace Meng, Jerrold Nadler and Gregory Meeks joined Census advocates in asking Albany to fund the hiring of workers to encourage citizens to participate in next year’s Census, which will be conducted online for the first time.

Maloney noted that Congress added a billion dollars to its budget for the Census funding, but stressed that federal funding alone was insufficient for Census outreach.

“We cannot rely on the Trump administration for an accurate count,” she said. “We have seen how this administration has tried to manipulate the whole Census for an undercount, starving the Census for funding… not even appointing a Census director until recently, adding an unconstitutional citizenship question to drive down participation.”

“There are efforts for an undercount, we need to counter that,” she added.

Conducted every 10 years, the U.S. Census is used to determine the amount of federal funding a state receives over the following decade, and also the number of Congressional representatives.

Congressional delegates said they feared an undercount in 2020 could cost New York upwards of $70 billion in federal funding for healthcare, education, libraries, infrastructure, and other essential services, and could reduce the state’s number of Congressional seats. An undercount occurred during the last Census, causing the state to lose two seats in Congress.

“We had an undercount that resulted in billions and billions of dollars less for education and for health and for food stamps… and it resulted in a loss of votes in Congress in the Electoral College, and we don’t want to do that again,” Nadler said.

“Any undercount will result in a reduction in services for people all over the city,” warned Espaillat. “There’s no way around it.”

Nadler said the state Census funding represented a sound investment.

“You’re spending millions now to get billions later,” he remarked.

New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) Executive Director Stephen Choi called next year’s count “the most challenging Census ever” since participants will complete it online.

“New York needs to double down on its investment. That’s why the $40 million is critical,” he said. While the State Senate and State Assembly each included $40 million for Census funding in their respective budgets, advocates called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to commit to the same.

In a statement, the Governor’s office said Census funding will be provided, but the state was still awaiting recommendations from its Complete Count Committee, comprised of government and community leaders, to determine the amount needed.

“We will launch a comprehensive campaign to ensure that every New Yorker is counted through marketing, outreach by the state agencies, and work with local governments. To support this effort, funds will be made available through Empire State Development,” the statement read.

Melva M. Miller, Executive Vice President of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), said the $40 million should be given to community-based organizations to promote the Census and perform door-to-door outreach.

“They are the ones who know the communities. They know the issues, they speak the language, they have the infrastructure,” she said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck effort. We know that the stakes are high.”

Meeks said he was worried an undercount would occur because deportation fears would prevent immigrants from opening their doors for Census enumerators they feel are connected to the government.

“We need people from the community going door-to-door,” agreed Meeks. “The best way they can feel confident is if people are knocking on their door that they know.”