Natasha Ishak

[email protected]

Last month, NYC Census 2020 officially released its Request For Proposals (RFP) to community-based organizations (CBOs) to receive a city grant to fund their census outreach programs. The census initiative teamed up with the City University of New York (CUNY) and the NYC City Council to allocate $19 million in awards to support efforts from community organizations to educate and encourage residents to participate in the upcoming 2020 Census.

According to a newsletter sent out by CUNY’s Mapping Department — which is responsible for the Hard To Count data census map — the school will begin reviewing grant applications from CBOs this month. Approximately 150 community organizations across the city’s five boroughs are expected to receive financial support through NYC’s Complete Count Fund. As the NYC Census 2020 website states, the fund aims to “increase individual response rates overall, especially within historically undercounted areas and constituencies.”

Image courtesy CPC NYC

“Direct contact with New York City residents is important because everybody counts,” Kathleen Daniel, who is the field director of the city’s census initiative, told the AmNews. “It is important that each one is reaching one and each one teaches one literally that the census is important.”

The grants will be awarded in contracts of $25,000 to $250,000 depending on the organization’s proposed budget and eligibility. According to the RFP, organizations are expected to hire new personnel, including “census managers,” who must commit more than 50 percent of their time solely to the organization’s census outreach and education programs. The first round of funding for grant recipients is set to be distributed on Dec. 1. In addition to providing funding, CUNY is creating a “Census Corps” made up of 200 students who will help support outreach programs throughout the city. 

The grants are a drop in the city’s $40-million pot to finance its ambitious census project. Compared to its preparations for the 2010 Census, New York City spent a meager $600,000 in outreach. The state has also increased its budget for the new census campaign, jumping from $2 million to $20 million for statewide outreach funding.

The significant increase in funds for the 2020 Census campaign speaks to the serious concerns of another possible undercount — something that New York has contended with in past population counts before. 

Image courtesy of Make the Road NY

After the 1990 Census count, New York City filed a formal challenge in which the city contended that its population had been undercounted. Issues with undercounting continued to plague the city almost every census thereafter. 

More recently, in 2011, the city filed a challenge against the Census Bureau, arguing that the 2010 Census had overlooked at least 50,000 residents in Brooklyn and Queens living in homes that were incorrectly written-off as vacant by the bureau. Not only did New York lose an estimated $1.5 billion in annual federal aid due to the 2010 undercount, the state also lost two Congressional seats as a result. 

According to city officials, New York City had a 61.9 percent self-response rate for the previous census in 2010 — slightly lower than the 76 percent average nationwide. Among the city’s five boroughs, Brooklyn had the lowest self-response rate of all with only 55.5 percent of households mailing back their survey responses. 

Furthermore, Brooklyn has the highest percentage of historically undercounted populations at 35 percent which is made up of Black New Yorkers, Orthodox Jewish New Yorkers, and immigrants of color. The high-stakes of the upcoming census and the challenges that could threaten an undercount make the involvement of CBOs to educate the public on its importance even more critical. The city received nearly 500 applications from CBOs for the census outreach grant. 

The City Council has already started distributing $4 million to several CBOs since August as part of the $19-million allocation so they could begin their census work. Among the recipients of the starting grant are five Brooklyn-based organizations: United Jewish Organizations, The Center for Law and Social Justice’s Census Justice Project at Medgar Evers College, the Arab American Family Support Center, the Council of Peoples Organization, and Bushwick’s Make the Road New York.

Cover image courtesy of Rep. Julie Menin

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