The Count is on for the 2020 Census – Each Community Responds

Depending on when you read this, you have already received a census form or you soon will. The national count of people living in the country is done every 10 years as required under the Constitution, and every person is required under federal law to respond. By mid-March, “invitations” should be arriving to households, and by April 1 (aka Census Day), the forms should be entered online, by phone, or by mail. Reminder letters will first be sent out by March 26, and again by April 8, before census workers start visiting homes of people not accounted for on April 9. All of this is to have everybody’s forms by July 31.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that while most Americans are aware this is a census year, many have some misunderstandings about what they will be asked. Only 17% of adults answered correctly that a citizenship question is not on the questionnaire, and only 25% knew that religious affiliation will not be asked. To help readers better understand the census, the River Journal reached out to community leaders with a series of questions. What follows are their responses.

Philip Zegarelli, Village Manager, Village of Briarcliff Manor; Rhea Mallett, local attorney Co-Chair with Mr. Zegarelli of the Village’s 2020 “Full Count” Census Committee

Q: Why is it important for everyone to fill out their census forms? 

Zegarelli: “There is history, both Biblical and in the development of the nation state, focused on the need for a Census. The United States Census is incorporated in our own Constitution on a ten-year basis..the Census has a top to bottom impact: It is the single criteria on how many Congressional Representatives each State is awarded. A multitude of federal grants and programs are awarded on the basis of the Census and other information gleaned from this ten year event. Each state in turn determines its share of projects and grant funds on a local basis. Stepping down to the county level, sales tax sharing allotted to VBM [Village of Briarcliff Manor] is not calculated at a ‘point of sale’ but on our per capita Census driven population. Even more local is the NYC’s Water Board calculation of water pricing: A per capita amount of water allocated on a monthly basis and priced to each community like Briarcliff Manor. Bottom line, everyone whether newborn or a senior, needs to be counted in every community. So much depends on a full count for Briarcliff Manor.”

Rhea Mallett: “While many informational alerts have been posted by the 2020 Census, in Briarcliff Manor we are generating our own Briarcliff ‘Centric’ fliers to identify on a local basis ‘Briarcliff’ reminders to reach our goal of a ‘full count’ of all residents. We have established our own local full count committee of some twenty volunteer residents and have held numerous meetings to gear up for this monumental event. Great cooperation with our Library and outreach to many different community groups has been very fruitful. Our census effort is a community effort that impacts everyone so we are working together to get a 100% count!”

Linda Puglisi, Town Supervisor, Town of Cortlandt

Q: Why is it important for everyone to fill out their census forms? 

Filling out the Census is important as the results of the census are used to determine how many representatives in the U.S. House of Representative each state gets, the population count is used to re-draw federal and state legislative boundaries, and the census helps to guide over $600 billion in federal funds for money to be spent on schools, roads, hospitals or other public works projects.

Q: Census responses are supposed to be confidential. How can people be reassured of their privacy? 

It is against the law to publicly release anyone’s response to the U.S. Census. Town staff has worked on several census-related projects in the past few years leading up to April 1, 2020, and had to follow strict confidentially requirements including limiting who can see the data and either returning all of the background work or certifying that the work has been destroyed, as per the U.S. Census guidelines.

Q: Can people whose first language isn’t English respond in another language? 

You can respond to the census in English or Spanish (forms will be available in Spanish).  Initially, you are encouraged to respond to the census online. If you do not submit your response online, you will receive a paper questionnaire. If you don’t respond to that, a census taker, hopefully a local person from your neighborhood, will come to your door. If there is a language barrier, it is expected the census taker will assist the respondent.

Q: Where or who would you direct people to if they have any questions or concerns about the census? 

The Town of Cortlandt Planning Office, 914-734-1080, can answer census questions and if necessary provide contact information for the U.S. Census Bureau’s staff person assigned to our area, Owen Borda, at 929-386-8295.

Q: Do you feel like the current political climate makes it more difficult to reach certain segments of the local population? If so, what can be done to make sure everyone participates in the census?

It should not matter because the Census should supersede politics. It’s very important that everyone is counted.

Ann Gallelli, Deputy Mayor, Village of Croton-on-Hudson

Q: Why is it important for everyone to fill out their census forms? 

Regarding the importance of having every person complete the census form, moneys that come from the federal government to local municipalities through various programs are calculated based on population. An undercount, which occurs when people do not participate in the census, means that less money and support for important programs is forthcoming. That is not just funding for social programs but includes money for paving, infrastructure, sales tax education, transportation, etc. The  Census Bureau estimates that every person who isn’t counted costs his/her local government about $2,500 in funding. Our representation state-wide in Congress also depends on our population count.

Q: Census responses are kept confidential. How can people be reassured of their privacy?

Confidentiality is, of course, a concern. The same United States code that provides the authority for conducting the census every ten years also provides explicit confidential protections which prohibit the sharing of the collected date even with law enforcement agencies.

Q: Can people whose first language isn’t English respond in another language? 

The form can be completed online and will be available in 59 languages. Many local libraries, supported by the Westchester Library System, are providing computer stations at their locations which will also have trained people helping responders. They can help people get the form in their preferred language. The County has also posted a language guide tutorial on YouTube which was prepared by the U.S. Census Commission and is available on both websites. These same Census websites are helpful in answering a myriad of questions people may have about the census and how to answer it.

Q: Do you feel like the current political climate makes it more difficult to reach certain segments of the local population? If so, what can be done to make sure everyone participates in the census? 

For a variety of reasons, including the current political climate, people may be reluctant to complete the 2020 Census form. For that reason, many communities have formed their own Complete count committees. The participation of local people does provide reassurance to those who may be uncertain, that it is deemed important by the people who live around them. The school systems, libraries, religious groups, and other local non-profits such as food pantries, all of which are supportive of a wide range of residents, will hopefully be instrumental in convincing their constituents that the Census Count is both important and safe.

Dana Levenberg, Supervisor, Town of Ossining

Q: Why is it important for everyone to fill out their census forms? 

We know having a complete count is critical to funding we receive to support services at all levels, from money for our roads, schools, senior programs, youth programs, grant allocations, and more. The more accurate count we get, the more likely it is we will get the proportional amount of funding that is due our municipality. This includes our proportion of sales tax revenues from Westchester County as well.

Q: Census responses are supposed to be confidential. How can people be reassured of their privacy?

There are so many ways to respond to the Census, which this year includes an easy way to do so from your phone or computer. Privacy is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and there are organizations in town who will help you fill out the census accurately and make sure you only answer questions that will be used to establish the true population count.

Q: Can people whose first language isn’t English respond in another language? 

Absolutely. I do not remember how many languages the Census is offered in, but it is many. This information is available on the official US Census 2020 website.

Q: Where or who would you direct people to if they have any questions or concerns about the census? 

Westchester County Department of Planning has been taking the lead on this, so someone could call them. They can also call the Village of Ossining, Town of Ossining, or Village of Briarcliff offices. We have all set up complete count committees to make sure we are doing our best to ensure a complete count.

Q: Do you feel like the current political climate makes it more difficult to reach certain segments of the local population? If so, what can be done to make sure everyone participates in the census? 

Many organizations who work directly with hard-to-count segments of our population have been established as stakeholders on our complete count committees, and even are involved at the County level as well. We are working collaboratively with all organizations that serve immigrants, seniors, and children to make sure we reach people where they are at. This year, there will be mobile units and we hope to have many of them at events where we know many people attend. We also hope that our organizations will sponsor events where census personnel will be able to directly help people fill out their census questionnaires.

Anthony Giaccio, Village Administrator, Sleepy Hollow

Q: Census responses are supposed to be confidential. How can people be reassured of their privacy?

Here is a good summary https://www.census.gov/library/fact-sheets/2019/dec/2020-confidentiality.html.  We are sharing this information in various forms—social media, presentations, posters, etc.

Q: Can people whose first language isn’t English respond in another language?

The best options will be online and by telephone. In addition, the plan is to hire enumerators who speak the language prevalent in the blocks to which they are assigned in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, obviously Spanish. But the hope is that people will not wait for the enumerator visit and will respond online or by phone. Here is a good summary of the options: https://www.census.gov/library/fact-sheets/2020/dec/2020-support-languages.html.

Q: Where or who would you direct people to if they have any questions or concerns about the census?

You can reach the census at 800-923-8282 with general questions. They can also email sleepytarrycensus2020@gmail.com.

Q: Do you feel like the current political climate makes it more difficult to reach certain segments of the local population? If so, what can be done to make sure everyone participates in the census?

We have a robust plan to make people aware of the importance of the census and support their access to be able to complete the questionnaire online. We are reaching out to trusted organizations and community activists, and Spanish-language media. We are placing lawn signs, posters and banners. We are working with the school to communicate with parents. We have a social media campaign in the local social media pages, both English and Spanish. We will have tables and laptops at events and in sites where people did not respond to the 2010 census and where people may need a little extra support.

Richard Slingerland, Village Administrator, Village of Tarrytown

Q: Why is it important for everyone to fill out their census forms? 

It is important for everyone to fill out and return their census forms because the population counts establish funding levels for local governments, including schools, towns, Villages and Counties. The Village of Tarrytown receives approximately $2.1 million each year from the sales tax based on our population count, which averages around $185 per year just for sales tax revenues per person that we would not receive. For the total overall distribution of funds annually, it is estimated that it means over $2,000 per year; in addition to lower population numbers, it means fewer Federal representatives being assigned for New York State.

Q: Census responses are supposed to be confidential. How can people be reassured of their privacy? 

Census responses by law have always been confidential, and their responses may not be shared with any other department or agency, at any level of government, local, state, or federal.

Q: Can people whose first language isn’t English respond in another language? 

Yes. All Census materials are translated into commonly spoken foreign languages. “The U.S. Census Bureau now offers glossaries and other information in a total of 59 languages.” (Source:  US Census https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/2020-census/planning-management/language-resources/language-guides.html)

Q: Where or who would you direct people to if they have any questions or concerns about the census? 

Any further questions about the census can be directed to www.census.gov, or send an e-mail to sleepytarrycensus2020@gmail.com, and we’ll try and answer questions as soon as possible.

Q: Do you feel like the current political climate makes it more difficult to reach certain segments of the local population? If so, what can be done to make sure everyone participates in the census? 

Yes, based on the current political climate, including concerns about retribution against undocumented residents. However, it is extremely important that our proper population be counted, so that there can be a more fair distribution of federal dollars, to help those who are more in need.

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About the Author: Jon Jackson