The Examiner

Local Elected Officials Vow to Seek Accurate Census Count

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New York State Complete Count Commission Co-Chair Jim Malatras at the July 25 public hearing in White Plains. Neal Rentz Photo

Several local elected officials vowed to seek an accurate 2020 census count during a meeting last week in White Plains.

The New York State Complete Count Commission held the public hearing at the New York Power Authority headquarters.

As stated on its Web site, “The bipartisan New York State Complete Count Commission was created to inform and help direct the state’s efforts in the upcoming 2020 Census. The Commission is analyzing previous census undercounts and recommending ways to ensure a full and complete count for the 2020 census.”

Next year’s census made headlines in June when the US Supreme Court voted to not allow the Trump Administration to put a citizenship question on 2020 census forms.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said the county has set up its own 2020 census committee and municipalities in Westchester have created their own committees. “We all understand that there’s over 100 federal programs that total billions of dollars of aid that are allocated based on census data,” Latimer said. Some of the federal programs that allocate funds based on census data include Medicare, Medicaid, highway planning and construction, mass transit funding, Pell Grants for higher education, Community Development Block grants for infrastructure projects, special education programs and Head Start, he said.

There must be an accurate count during next year’s census, Latimer said. In working on how to allocate the additional revenues to municipalities from the recently approved higher county sales tax, “I immediately saw where an undercount deprives community A or community B of revenue that they both need and deserve,” he said.

Latimer said preparation for next year’s census count is the first time in his experience, “where there’s this kind of willingness and energy of the local levels of government” to have a complete count statewide. The effort for an accurate count requires public education campaigns and outreach to residents, Latimer said.

At least seven communities in Westchester have created 2020 census committees so far, Latimer said. State funding needs to be sent to the county for next year’s count, he said.

Patricia Keegan, district director for Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Harrison), read a statement on behalf of Lowey.

Lowey stated, “The Commission is doing critical work to prepare for the 2020 census, insuring that we get an accurate count.”

New York residents send more in taxes dollars to the federal government to other states than it receives back, Lowey stated. “It is essential that we get our fair share of federal support,” she stated, adding that in the 2016 fiscal year the state received more than $73 billion from 55 federal programs that was guided by 2010 census data.

Lowey stated that she opposed the Trump Administration’s efforts to have a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaires. “In Washington I have opposed the Trump Administration’s efforts to limit participation in the census at every turn,” she stated. “In fact, before the Supreme Court ruled against the administration, as Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee I insured that the House passed funding bills supporting the census and blocked the citizenship question by law.” The House bill included a $4.6 billion increase for the census, Lowey stated.

“We can’t get an accurate count without adequate funding,” Lowey said. “Unfortunately, this administration chose to play political football with a fundamental function of our government by attempting to add the nefarious citizenship question. It was an unnecessary addition and a clear attack on immigrant and other minority communities.”

Aside from the state commission’s work, efforts have begun in her Congressional district through county and local census committees, Lowey stated. “We must insure that people feel safe enough to participate in the census by coordinating with local stakeholders to get the word out and make sure groups that are vulnerable to underestimation are heard,” she stated.

Caleb Hersh, chief of staff for Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), said there were undercounts in her district during the 2010 census and portions of her district “have historically been undercounted,” he said.

“It is cruelly ironic that many places that need the most public assistance are also the most undercounted,” Hersh said. “This impairs the ability of our already struggling communities to get critical aid. Many residents in our district struggle with poverty and lack of Internet access making it difficult for them to obtain critical census information.”

Commission Co-Chair Jim Malatras told Hersh the Commission is seeking to have the people Hersh was referring to in his comments respond to next year’s census. Malatras said if new people are coming into the district, that population needs to be reflected in next year’s census count. He added that immigrants might be apprehensive about responding to the census questionnaire even though the citizenship question will not be part of next year’s count.

Alex Roithmayr, chief of staff for Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-White Plains), said the Assemblyman appreciated the Commission’s efforts “to insure all communities are accurately represented in the 2020 census.”

Buchwald was part of a “friend of the court brief” to the US Supreme Court in opposition to the citizenship question, Roithmayr noted. The state needs to recognize that Westchester has “hard communities to count.”

“It is essential that every effort be made to increase initial response rates,” Roithmayr said.

Libraries in Westchester need state funds to participate in the census outreach process, Roithmayr said. Churches, Chambers of Commerce and schools can also be part of the outreach process, he added.

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