Census Citizenship End Run

FILE - This March 23, 2018 file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith, File)

The 2019-20 state budget contains $20 million for census outreach, but organizers say more funding is needed to help community-based organizations ensure there is an accurate count. 

New York Counts 2020, a coalition of groups from across the state, is calling for additional funding. The organization believes $40 million is necessary to overcome issues that affect immigrants and communities of color, such as fear of government, language barriers and the lack of internet access. 

"We think that (community-based organizations) are the best positioned to address these challenges," said Fabiola Ortiz Valdez, manager of member engagement for the New York Immigration Coalition. "It's in the interest of our state government to ensure that." 

The 2020 census will begin next April. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, households will receive invitations to participate in the count by mail, online or by phone. 

The census, which is conducted every 10 years, is important because it determines congressional apportionment and federal funding for Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other programs. 

Ortiz Valdez and other advocates want to avoid what happened in 2010. New York state, she said, was undercounted and lost two congressional seats. The state also lost federal funding due to the census. 

Kayla Kelechian, an organizer with the Workers' Center of Central New York, explained why community-based organizations play a vital role in ensuring there's an accurate count. Her group partnered with the Central New York Community Foundation to encourage Onondaga County to update local addresses for the census. 

The effort involved visiting the communities that are traditionally undercountered or considered difficult to reach. Kelechian said it was a success. 

"We bring the people. We have the connections. We have the trust," she added. 

When the census count begins, one way community-based organizations can help is by assisting people fill out the form online. While the Census Bureau plans to send invitations to residents in communities lacking internet access, the agency aims to have most of the count conducted online, whether it's by completing the form on a computer or a smartphone. 

Kelechian said that will a barrier for communities that are already under-represented in the census. 

"It's going to exclude a lot of people, especially in this area, who might not have access to the internet," she continued. She noted that the last census found 18 percent of central New Yorkers didn't have access to the internet. 

There's also concern about a question that may be included on the census form. The Trump administration added a citizenship question to the 2020 census, although it's being challenged in the courts and may be removed from the final questionnaire. 

Ortiz Valdez said the question will discourage people, particularly undocumented immigrants, from completing the census. 

The citizenship question is also why organizers believe the state needs to provide more support and an additional $20 million for community-based organizations. 

"We don't expect any support from this federal administration," Ortiz Valdez said. "We count on the state government to ensure that those communities in our state are counted and are included in this process." 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.