The 2020 Census will determine how $675 billion is disseminated every year, funding programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Highway Planning and Construction, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to name a few.
“We get one chance every 10 years to make sure we get the data correct,” Jeff Behler, director of the New York Regional Office for the Census Bureau, said at Borough Hall Monday.
Borough President Melinda Katz noted the work of the Queens Complete Count Committee, an autonomous and bipartisan group of community leaders who identify possible obstacles and their solutions in ensuring an accurate count, and said how they’re trying to get the community to trust them.
“I do think it’s going to be an uphill battle,” she said. “Especially a lot of languages are just not on your list ... so we’re not only telling them that it’s safe, now we’re saying ... Just trust us you’re answering the right answer in the right place.”
Katz asked Behler what would happen if the numbers come back and are “clearly wrong.”
Behler replied, “This is really it. This is the official count. We get one chance every 10 years.” He did say that there is a special program if cities choose to fund another count for the Census.
Community Board 1 District Manager Florence Koulouris spoke about what she believes to be the lack of an accurate count.
“We were completely undercounted to the point that our Census count shows that we were going from 210,000 citizens to 177,000 citizens in one of the fastest-growing communities in the world,” she said.
Koulouris added, “There is no way from what you’re saying here at this table tonight our numbers are going to be correct. I can tell you that right now.”
She said that Behler was informing the community boards on how to give out information but that most boards only have three or four people working for them.
“We need you to give us the tools,” Koulouris said.
Katz mentioned that the boards and QCCC are trying to make up for what the Census Bureau can’t do “because we know our neighborhoods better than anyone else.”
There are several ways to respond to the Census. For the first time, people can fill it out online. And, in another new wrinkle, it can be done over the phone on a toll free number. The Census has had a toll free number for years but had never collected data over the phone.
Paper copies are still an option as well.
Behler acknowledged that residents may have concerns about filling out the Census, saying, “We don’t care whether they’re here legally or illegally. We care that they get counted.”
He added, “By law we cannot release information that would identify an individual or a household. Period.”
Not even the Department of Homeland Security can access the data collected. He did say that the more questions left unanswered on the Census, the better chance there is that someone from the count will come knocking on the door.
Behler also gave advice on avoiding scams, which he said have been circulating.
“We never ask for money,” he said. “Never. We never ask for Social Security numbers. We never ask for bank account or credit card information. If you see that in relation to the Census, it’s a scam.”
The Census Bureau will be opening four offices in Queens and will need clerical staff and supervisors.
The majority of the positions will be for short-term temporary work, for about two to three months.
The jobs in New York City pay a minimum of $25 per hour.
Those looking to apply for work can visit 2020census.gov/jobs.
Census Day is April 1, 2020. Census takers will visit households that don’t respond. Apportionment counts will be sent to the president by the end of the year and redistricting counts are sent to the states by March 31, 2021.