About the Town Hall

This early town hall was an information session with question and answer about the 2020 Census. Held early in the census process, on April 7th 2019, it was an opportunity to get local activist and civic organizations involved in improving outreach among marginalized communities. Representatives from the new municipal Office for the Census, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs, as well as the federal Census Bureau, were in attendance to answer questions from community leaders.

Audio Bookmarks

Recording Notes

Guest speakers at the Bay Ridge 2020 Census Town Hall in April of 2019
Left to Right: Jeff Behler, Julie Menin, Max Rose, Justin Brannan, Bitta Mostofi

Congressman Max Rose’s Introduction

Congresman Max Rose kicked off the Town Hall at An-Noor Social Center by emphasizing the importance of the census. He hit all the major points: it determines the number of seats in the House of Representatives, it becomes a public data source that drives government services and non-profits. But Max’s focus was on how the Census determines the funding he and the federal government can bring to the neighborhood.

People could end up with less food on the table, less medical assistance, less housing assistance, if they don’t have faith and trust and community buy-in in this census process.

Congressman Max Rose on the 2020 Census

Councilman Justin Brannan

Justin discussed the lasting harm that the 2010 census did to Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. Entire buildings, he says, were marked as vacant because census canvassers couldn’t reach the families that lived there. The result was drastic funding shortages, misaligned city data, and more.

What I’d like to see is to turn this into a sense of pride… filling out where they’re from as a sense of pride… Take away the fear, and make them feel proud.

Councilman Justin Brannan

Justin also pointed out that the continuing struggle to get Arabic translators into local poll sites is difficult, in part due to an under-count from the 2010 Census. Efforts to provide translators within polling areas has been denied, Justin says, by Board of Election officials who see no need for the translators based on Census data. In order to get the kinds of support that other areas of New York get, our community needs to be accurately counted.

Julie Menin

Julie Menin is the director of the Office of the Census for NYC. It’s a brand-new organization, which is organized by the NYC municipal government, to assist the federal government in carrying out the 2020 Census in New York City. The hope is that by helping connect the Bureau of the Census with local resources and organizations, we can make major inroads into improving NYC’s very low response rates. Brooklyn had the lowest response rate out of the 5 boroughs.

If you don’t take the five minutes to fill this form out you’re gonna’ lose funding for your local public schools, for your senior center, for Medicaid, for SNAP, for WIC, dozens of important programs that our city relies on.

Julie Menin, Census Director for NYC, on how the messaging for the 2010 Census failed to emphasize the economic costs of an inaccurate count

Julie took time to point out that local institutions like public schools, senior centers, and hospitals rely on Census data. If the Census under-counts areas, government programs might become underfunded or overcrowded. This includes SNAP, School Lunch programs, highway repairs, adult education grants, and much more. It isn’t just limited to Federal programs either: many non-profits use Census data to guide their operations.

The timeline for the Census is coming up soon. The initial mailers will go out in mid-March, and 80% of NYC residents will get a code that will allow them to fill out the census digitally. That is followed up by the opening of phone lines with translators, pop-up centers across the city, and more. Additional mailings then go out requesting replies by mail, and finally, census takers begin to go door-to-door if you haven’t yet applied.

One issue of major concern was the under-count of children in the last census. A million children were left out of the census nation-wide in 2010. This dramatically hampers the healthcare industry from responding to medical emergencies. Julie mentioned that, for example, a measles outbreak becomes much more deadly if New York health services can’t accurately compare vaccination rates to the Census-reported number of children in an area.

Bitta Mostofi

Bitta Mostofi from the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs spoke briefly. She emphasized the importance of counting every single person, regardless of citizenship, so the city can effectively deliver services to the immigrant community. This includes providing legal aid to help immigrants have a pathway to citizenship, or provide services to green-card holders. The census is, thus, one of the only means for non-citizens to have a voice.

…Every single person should have a voice…. saying “I am here, think about me, think about the services that I need, that my children need”… the Census is designed, by the founding fathers, to fulfill that need. Regardless of whether you have the right to vote, you have the right to be counted.

Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs

Bitta also emphasized that an under-count will reduce New York City’s representation in the House of Representatives by as many as two seats. This lowers our voice in the Federal government, and will dramatically affect the layout of districts like NY11.

The biggest ask by Bitta is for local organizations and activists to gear up early to help reach out to immigrant communities in order to build trust in the Census. Key to this is improving early responses which will help reduce the need for a door-to-door count.

Jeff Behler

Jeff is the Regional Director for the US Census, which includes all the states from New Jersey north to Maine, as well as Puerto Rico. He kicked off with a direct request for people to begin applying for jobs with the US Census. The hours are flexible to nights and weekends for 25 dollars an hour.

Another major theme was that the census is safe. He emphasized that the Census cannot be used to identify an individual or a household. If you live in an illegally subdivided apartment, nobody will be able to determine your address, and all Census workers are sworn to oaths of confidentiality for life. Any census official who leaks personal data from any census can be jailed for five years and suffer a $250,000 fine.

No one… can access any information that identifies an individual or a household. Not Federal law enforcement, not State law enforcement, not local law enforcement. We don’t care if you have an apartment that’s illegally subdivided… Homeland Security, INS, no one can gain access to your information that identifies an individual or a household. Period… We’re sworn to an oath of confidentiality for life.

Jeff Behler, Regional Director for the US Census (New York Region)

As a Regional Director, Jeff was also well qualified to go over all the various ways people can submit information to the Census. This includes, for the first time, an online form where a mailer sent to your home provides a code that corresponds to your address. A phone response is also available with twelve non-English languages. This includes Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. Only after that is a paper form sent. All of those are considered early-response, which are usually very accurate. The door-to-door count that follows as a last resort is often inaccurate, and the Census is trying hard to improve the early-response rate.

Public Comments

01. Immigrants and low-income neighbors are afraid

Concern: Many local immigrants and disenfranchised individuals are afraid of filling out the census. This stems not only from immigration status, but concerns over exposing their housing status or low income levels to the Federal government.

02. Brooklyn’s low 54% response rate in 2010

Concern: What lessons can we learn from the extremely low 2010 early-response rate in Brooklyn, and how will the city’s involvement in the census this year help to improve that rate.

03. Avoiding a repeat of the 2010 response rate

Concern: How is the city, and the Census, changing their tactics to improve the 2020 census early response rates? How will city messaging and resources be brought to bear?

04. Census funding concerns

Concern: According to a Fiscal Policy Institute report, $20 million state-wide for community-based organizations to support the census is not enough. How is the city and Federal government working to ensure that local groups will be funded and properly supported during census outreach? What is the timeline for the grant process?

We will be giving out grants by the end of the year, that is our goal, in large part because we want organizations to start that work… so that we can start 2020 really hitting the ground running.

Julie Menin

05. Census job qualifications

Concern: What are the requirements for a person to apply for a job with the Census? What is the minimum age and qualifications, and how does immigration status factor into hiring?

Right now the qualifications are 18 years of age and a U.S. Citizen. We are seeking waivers that we had back in 2010 to have non-citizens to be able to work for us.

Jeff Behler

06. Accurately counting tribal areas

Concern: How is the Census properly counting the native population on reservations and tribal areas? How will the census affect Tribal status and funding? How are children being counted at the border camps and detention centers?

07. What are the most important factors to a low response rate?

Concern: What are the household types that are hard to count? What kinds of communities should local organizations be focusing on for outreach?

We have a really great tool, it’s called the Response Outreach Area Mapper… and it basically looks at every census tract in the nation and assigns a “hard-to-count” score… Probably the one thing partners can do for us, more than anything else, is give us information. Tell us what the right message is for their community.

Jeff Behler

08. Will there be opposition in Albany to an accurate Census?

Concern: Will Governor Cuomo interfere or look to subvert the census? What outside forces have a vested interest in harming the census?

09. How do people without addresses fill out the Census?

Concern: Is it the responsibility of a landlord to count people who are living in illegally subdivided apartments, basements, or who have tenants without addresses?

If we have an address that is missed, that doesn’t mean they can’t fill out the form. It just means they’re going to go online… instead of entering the twelve-digit ID they are just going to key-in their address and their nearest cross-streets.

Jeff Behler

10. Census pop-ups in houses of worship

Concern: Is it acceptable for pop-up sites to be located in houses of worship? How can local churches begin reaching out to start education and assistance?

11. Importance of local funding for outreach

Concern: What is the timeline, and what is the process for getting funding, for local organizations and community groups? How early can this process begin?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.