New Yorkers battered by the coronavirus and civil unrest are falling behind the rest of the nation in answering the U.S. Census -- a failing that could cost the city tens of millions if they don't catch up, two of the city's members of Congress warned.
The Census is used that the basis not just for drawing congressional districts every 10 years, but to dole out some $1.5 trillion in federal spending every year, based on population counts.
With more than 8 million residents, New York gets a big chunk of that federal cash.
But Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) warned in releasing a brief report that only about 52% of the city has answered the decennial survey, well behind national rates about 60%.
"Usually the city is doing better than the national level, but right now the national response, and this is personal response rate, is much higher than the city, so that's why we're sounding the alarm," said Maloney.
The report looked specifically at two areas of funding that the city gets based on the Census -- education and job training.
For each lower-income kid who isn't counted, the city loses $2,295, and just missing 1% of that population cuts funding for city school kids by $7.3 million, according to the report. For every lower-income worker who doesn't get counted, the city loses $281 for job-training programs, or $3.7 million for just a 1% undercount.
Although the report focused on just those two services, the city gets billions from the federal government every year for the services it provides. An undercount in the Census would multiply rapidly across various sectors to suck federal dollars away from the city, and leave them to be spent elsewhere in the nation. Federal tax law already ensures that New Yorkers send more money to Washington every year that they get back, while many states, especially in the South, get back more than they send.
"We need everyone to participate in the Census as if your life depends on it -- because your quality of life absolutely depends on it," said Jefferies.
"Every facet of your life will be adversely impacted by an undercount of even 1%," Jeffries added. "If we are not accurately counted in New York City, we will lose funding with respect to public health, public education, public housing, public sanitation, public transportation, public safety, and various other aspects of day to day life."
Since the report focused on New York, it was unclear how broadly the data applied elsewhere, and whether other communities with similarly diverse populations are facing similar Census count shortfalls.
Maloney said that in addition to the challenges of COVID-19 and demanding racial justice, another reason for the low response rate so far could be the distrust many in the immigrant community have towards the federal government after the Trump White House tried to add a citizenship question that courts blocked, citing in part "racial animus." Such distrust exists in migrant communities all over the country.
The lawmakers pointed out, however, that it is illegal for the Census to share personal information with law enforcement or anyone else.
Another factor Maloney could not assess, although she chairs the House Oversight Committee, was whether the Trump administration is actually doing a good job carrying out the Census.
That's because the administration has refused to provide information or allow hearings.
"They say they're doing everything right, but what's the old saying? Trust but verify. We would like to verify they are doing everything right. We have not been able to do that," Maloney said.
"We would like better oversight, we would like more regular meetings where we could approach it in a professional way. We have asked for that. We have not been granted that," Maloney said.
Filling out the Census can be done online at Census.gov, by mail or by phone, and failing to do so only harms communities who don't respond.
"It is important that in connection with the 2020 census, every single child, every single adult every single household. Every single block. And every single community, participate in the census.
"It's something that each person can do -- that's my message," said Maloney. "Each person can easily fill out the Census, and help their city, help themselves, help their neighborhoods."