Community leaders discuss issues facing 2020 census

Attendees gathered at Temple Beth El in Huntington for the Every Person Counts event. The event discussed issues surrounding accurate census taking.

By Niki Nassiri and Sarah Beckford

Over 50 people, including six community leaders, attended a panel at Temple Beth El on Feb. 25 to discuss participation strategies in anticipation of the 2020 census. 

Topics discussed included the census’ data security, transparency about information privacy and how attendees can stop misinformation in undercounted neighborhoods. The community leader panel also addressed rumors about the addition of a citizenship question that had raised fear in immigrant groups. The Trump Administration declined to proceed with the question last July.  

“It’s important because we want to make sure that people are included [in the census],” Marianela Casas, a member of the HWCLI  board of directors and the assistant commissioner of community engagement for the Nassau County Police Department, said. “I always say diversity is not about having a rainbow at the table, it’s about having people actually being included in the process and the decision making process.”

Suffolk and Nassau counties are the fourth and fifth “hardest-to-count” counties in New York State respectively, according to Hard To Count 2020. Twenty-three percent of people in Nassau County live in what are called “hard-to-count” neighborhoods.

The Long Island Network for Change (LINC), who hosted the event, urged participants at its Every Person Counts: Census 2020 event to promote and educate people across historically undercounted communities in Long Island about the census’ impact. These groups include immigrant communities, people of color, senior citizens, renters and young children. Around 18% of Long Islanders are immigrants, according to the Office of the New York State Comptroller.

“For my Latino immigrant community I see a lot of fear,” Victoria Hernandez, chapter coordinator of SEPA Mujer said. “They don’t want to do the census because they think they’re going to share the information with ICE.”

Undercounting immigrants deprives their communities and surrounding cities of access to social support, stripping away financial availability of Medicaid, grants to bolster underperforming schools and even highway planning and construction, according to a resource article by Salud America.

“We need to remind people we all use the same roads, the same hospitals and the same schools,” Rebecca Sanin, President of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island (HWCLI) and speaker at the event, said.  “If you want to make sure your corner of the world gets what it deserves you have to make sure every corner of our region is counted.”

Under U.S. Code Title 13, all census information is protected and never published. The bureaus of Economic Analysis and Labor Statistics use the data for statistical purposes only, and violation of this code lands the offender in either up to five years in prison, 250,000 dollars in fines or both. This means that information regarding  citizenship will not be shared.

The Long Island Network for Change, in partnership with  HWCLI and the Chai Club at the Temple Beth El of Huntington, hosted the community event. 

The federal census is taken every 10 years to track population changes.  Based on census statistics, federal and state financing is portioned to social services like schools, hospitals and transportation. 

The census will be available starting April 1 and end on an unannounced date in August.