“It is incredibly important that every single resident — every single person — who lives in Nassau County is counted in the 2020 census,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said at a news conference at Glen Cove City Hall on July 23. Curran, alongside U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, of Glen Cove, brought together a host of county and state representatives to reiterate the significance of the census coming up next year.
The census is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years to determine the allocation of federal funding and the number of congressional seats a state may have in Washington. The population data gathered also helps local entities, such as schools and businesses, best serve their communities by having a comprehensive understanding of the people who live there.
However, Curran said, Nassau County did not benefit from the 2010 census as much as it should have, in large part because of the lack of responses from an estimated 23 percent of county residents. If that shortfall were to be repeated in 2020, the needs of over 315,000 people would not be taken into account by the federal government. Since the federal funding a county receives is based on its population, a lack of census participation would leave Nassau well short of the funding it needs.
An estimated 40 percent of the non-respondents in 2010 were people of color, and 15 percent live in or near poverty, according to the Long Island Counts 2020 Census Report. Curran explained that much of that population is made up of immigrants, documented and undocumented, who may be hesitant to participate in the census because they see it as enabling government agencies to question their citizenship. Counting Americans accurately could be an even more daunting challenge in 2020, given the heated rhetoric now dominating the national conversation about citizenship.
“Just the climate in the country in general has caused fear,” Curran said. “Our concern is that more and more people will go into the shadows and not be counted.”
“There is a factor of intimidation in immigrant communities, even under the best of circumstances,” said State Assemblyman Chuck Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove who grew up in an immigrant household. “What the president and the secretary of commerce [Wilbur Ross] have done to threaten the immigrant community, by attempting to include a question on citizenship in the census form, is nothing less than an embarrassment to our democracy.”
Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman said that $675 billion could be granted countrywide if all U.S. residents are accounted for by the census. An undercount would take money away from schools, infrastructure and health care services. Additionally, he said, an undercount of just 0.6 percent on Long Island would cost New York two congressional seats in Washington.
At a census panel at the Nassau County Legislative building in Mineola that evening, representatives of several minority communities shared their views on why the 2020 census would be especially important to their populations. Theresa Saunders, president and CEO of the Urban League of Long Island, said it would be crucial for urban communities to be counted accurately, because they require as much federal funding as any other Americans.
“If we don’t stand up and be fearless,” Saunders said, “just not being counted isn’t going to be the worst thing that’s going to happen, because when the resources dry out, we will look like the nation where people are laying on the streets and babies are starving.”
“Black and brown communities are always saying, ‘We don’t have what we need,’” said Mimi Pierre Johnson, president and CEO of the Elmont Cultural Center. “Well, this is our chance now to make it count. We’ll be able to say, ‘I need this for my community because this is how many people live here.’”
County officials plan to sponsor job fairs across Nassau, enabling residents to become census takers so long as they are U.S. citizens and will be 18 or older by February 2020. They will visit members of their communities who have not responded to census inquiries, with the goal of increasing those communities’ chances of receiving the representation and funding they need.
“This is an important issue at the federal level, this is an important issue at the state level, but it’s most important here at the local level,” Suozzi said at the news conference, “and that local folks are involved in making sure that every single person is counted. We only get one shot every 10 years to get this right.”
Natalie Deshommes contributed to this story.