Alec Meeker

[email protected]

On Friday April 26, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez of New York’s 7th Congressional District held a roundtable discussion with Bushwick community leaders to discuss the urgency and importance of the 2020 census for the local community.

Every 10 years the U.S. Census Bureau is tasked with counting the entire American Population. On April 1, 2020 the US Census Bureau will begin counting.

The primary purpose of the census is to determine how many congressional seats each state needs in the U.S. House of Representatives. The results also determine the amount  of federal funding that will be allocated over the next decade to each state. These federal dollars go to 55 social programs, like SNAP and Medicaid, while also supporting community hospitals, schools and even funding for the transportation infrastructure (yes, that includes NYS Transportation Funding which trickles down to projects like the L Train Tunnel).

In past censuses, Bushwick and other areas of Brooklyn have been drastically undercounted, resulting in notable decreases in federal funding allocated to our public schools, public housing developments, and community programs and services. Officials worry that the undercount in immigrant neighborhoods may become worse due to the current political climate and the planned addition of a citizenship question on the census form.

NYC 2010 Census participation rates. 

After the 2010 Census, New York State lost two congressional seats. A low census response rate for New York in 2020 could lead to additional losses in the house.

On Friday morning, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez held a roundtable discussion at the New Jerusalem United Methodist Church in Bushwick to discuss the importance of the 2020 Census and to make plans to overcome the challenges that will be faced in April.

“It is important we have an accurate census because the number of congressional members will be determined by that count,” said Velázquez “If we don’t have an accurate count, we will lose political power.”

The congresswoman elaborated on the importance of having congressional power: with an accurate census count it is easier to make a case to bring funding to the neighborhood to ensure public entities like schools and hospitals have adequate funding and new resources.

Funding for projects such as the L train improvement, Brooklyn roads, and Brooklyn bridges are all allocated money through a process that has its base in the census results.

Officials worry that the current political environment and the potential addition of a “citizenship” question on the census form will depress response rates in areas with high immigrant populations.

Officials at the roundtable discussion assured the crowd that it was imperative to fill out the census form and that their information is safe. There are two important things to know. The first is that there are many individuals with valid papers who are not citizens. Meaning, there are plenty of individuals who are legal non-citizens in the US who will check that box.

Secondly, the Census Bureau is beholden to Title 13, which is a law providing strong protection for the data collected by the organization. According to Title 13, private information collected is never published and it is against the law to share with other government agencies.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez speaking at the round table.

Additionally, all U.S. Census Bureau employees are sworn to uphold Title 13 for their lifetimes and violating Title 13 is a federal crime with up to five years in prison and up to $250K in fines.

On March 26 of last year, Wilber Ross, announced his decision to add a new question to the 2020 census that asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

The legality is currently being challenged in court by many states including New York. The supreme court is expected to make a ruling sometime in June.

State Senator Julia Salazar, joined the panel as well, “Particularly in this political climate we know that the addition of the citizenship question will not in practical terms endanger our undocumented neighbors but of course it is reasonable that it will instill fear in people.”

Salazar underlined the importance of the community to be prepared for either outcome of the census, while waiting on the ruling of the Supreme Court decision.

The discussion on Friday encouraged community members to trust the process, fill out the census forms and educate their neighbors. However, everyone, including the congresswoman, was aware of the massive distrust in the current administration.

“The problem is, the mere fact that this discussion is happening right now is creating fear in a climate that is so charged in our nation,” Velázquez said. “So, we need to come together as a community, church leaders, community-based organizations, schools, teachers, fathers, mothers, everyone… we’ve got to fight this together.”  

The Supreme Court decision is in June, the census begins in 11 months.

Photos courtesy of Julio Salazar.

For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.