By Lisa Scott
Covid-19 is affecting every aspect of our lives. Businesses are being told to reduce staffing or if deemed “non-essential” to shutter altogether; unemployment claims are soaring; individuals are being urged to practice “social distancing” or simply stay home if possible; parents are experiencing a growing concern about their children’s education as school closings seem indefinite; necessary medical resources remain in short supply; and the most vulnerable among us — the homeless — are reaching new levels of despair and hopelessness.
However, even though we are told that the situation “will get worse before it gets better,” it is vitally important that we focus on planning ahead for both our personal well-being and that of our communities.
Lost in the relentless bad news is the immediate AND long term importance of our decennial Census. The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding every year, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade. Each one of us should educate ourselves, prioritize our response, and support efforts to ensure that ALL members of our communities are aware and participating in the Census.
According to the New York Times, “Even at its smoothest, the decennial census is among the most sprawling and complicated exercises in American society, mandated by the Constitution to count every person in the nation, whether in homes, prisons or under freeway viaducts; whether citizens or undocumented immigrants in hiding. The 2020 census already was destined to be an even more daunting venture — the first ever conducted mostly online, in a deeply polarized nation where mistrust of the government and immigrants fearful of authorities could make an accurate count harder than in recent memory.”
A few basics: You should have already received the census invitation in the mail. You can easily complete the survey via online, telephone or USPS mail, whether or not you received the invitation. Visit https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html for a clear explanation of this part of the process and to submit your response. Telephone responses are encouraged at 844-330-2020 (English) and 12 languages are also supported (these phone numbers are on the website).
The Census period runs from mid-March until late August. You will receive several reminders if you haven’t responded, including a paper questionnaire in early April and a follow up in person.
All 2020 Census responses are kept confidential and private. Under Title 13 of the U.S. code, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. Your responses cannot be shared and cannot be used against you by any government agency or court in any way. The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous.
Many consider the Census an invasion of our privacy or worse, thus ALL of us should more clearly understand the representation and resource allocation impact if we don’t complete the survey. In 2017 the Census Bureau examined the 2015 distribution of funds based on the 2010 Census, and included those federal programs using Census Bureau data to distribute funds in one of three ways: selection and/or restriction of recipients of funds, award or allocation of funds and monitoring and assessment of program performance.
The 2017 study https://2020census.gov/content/dam/2020census/materials/partners/2020-01/Uses-of-Census-Bureau-Data-in-Federal-Funds-Distribution.pdf found more than $675 billion thus distributed, up from more than $400 billion in a 2009 study. The 2020 could have nearly $1 trillion at stake, and our communities will suffer if our negligence denies us our “fair share.”
The U.S. Constitution mandates that the country count its population once every 10 years. The results are used to adjust or redraw electoral districts, based on where populations have increased or decreased. State legislatures or independent bipartisan commissions are responsible for redrawing congressional districts.
By April 1 of the year following the decennial census, the Secretary of Commerce is required to furnish the state officials or their designees with population counts for American Indian areas, counties, cities, census blocks, and state-specified congressional, legislative, and voting districts. Thus, in mid 2021, our New York State Legislature will receive the data from which they will redistrict and redraw lines. Our number of Congressional seats will also be reflected; it is expected that New York State may lose a seat because of uncounted populations.
We ALL need to complete the census — our representation and our share of federal and state resources are at stake!
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.