“If we don’t show up on the Census, it’s like Thanos snapped his fingers and we all just disappear,” said Lurie Daniel Favors, General Counsel for the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, at a Jan. 14 press conference kicking into high gear a campaign to raise awareness of this year’s U.S. Census.
At New York University’s Kimmel Center for University Life, Mayor de Blasio, 2020 Census Director Julie Menin and Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives J. Phillip Thompson announced that the city would spend $8 million on a media campaign to educate people about the Census, which residents can begin submitting March 12. About $3 million of that funding will be used to advertise in community and ethnic publications and television to reach out to undercounted communities and immigrants.
Citizenship Question Out
The media campaign was part of a broader $40 million investment by the de Blasio administration to push back against fears created by a now-eliminated proposal to put a question on the survey asking participants’ citizenship status. In March 2018, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that it would restore the citizenship question, which had not been used since the 1950 Census. But last June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against overturning three lower-court rulings that blocked the question from being included.
“This time we have to do something much harder because this time we have the Federal Government trying to stop us from getting the count right,” Mr. de Blasio said. “They created fear, they created confusion, they tried to convince people that the Census was somehow going to be a problem in their life.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that restoring the question would have dissuaded about 9 million people across the country from participating in the count. The Census determines how $7 billion in Federal funding is allocated in the state, including for programs such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and food stamps. It also governs how many seats a state receives in the U.S. House of Representatives, and experts believed that the change might have cost New York two seats.
Ms. Menin, who also serves as Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Strategic Advocacy at the Law Department, said that there was a “clear plan” by the Trump Administration to “weaponize the Census, to basically use what is a constitutional obligation to count us as a tool to harm us, and we’re not going to stand for that.”
Participation in the Census was already lower in New York than the national average: only 63 percent of New Yorkers answered Census questions in 2010, compared to 74 percent of people nationally.
“If there is an undercount in New York in this Census, who exactly is going to be undercounted? It’s going to be communities with a lot of immigrants, it’s going to be communities with a lot of brown people, it’s going to be communities with a lot of black people,” Mr. Thompson said. “Not everybody is going to be undercounted.”
Ms. Daniel Favors spoke of a long history of mistrust among blacks in regard to who is counted, including the fact that slaves were considered three-fifths of a person until the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted in 1865. “We have to be able to tap into that history, we have to be able to recognize that there are reasons why we are not showing up,” she said.
But she added that teaching people the importance of the Census was crucial as well. “This isn’t about doing just your civic duty, you need schools, you need Teachers who are properly trained, your roads need to be driveable, and your hospitals can’t be shutting down.”
Unions Back Push
Labor advocates, including the United Federation of Teachers, District Council 37 and Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ also came out to support the initiative.
The “NYC Census 2020” coalition partnered with the City University of New York, which serves predominantly low- and middle-income students of color, to train 200 students to educate their families and neighbors about the Census. The survey determines how much Federal funding schools and colleges will receive for programs and services such as the Pell Grant, Special Education and student wellness.
“It was inevitable that CUNY would play a major role in this historic Census mobilization effort. After all, CUNY is very much New York,” Executive Vice Chancellor José Luis Cruz said.
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