Crown Heights

Brooklyn pols demand state release $4 million for Census 2020 outreach

September 25, 2019 Kelly Mena
Central Brooklyn has some of the worst Census response rates in the nation. Screenshot of
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With just over five months to go before the start of the 2020 Census, leaders across Brooklyn are calling for the state to deliver $4 million to fund the borough’s counting efforts.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who represents the historically undercounted neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Brownsville and Sunset Park, penned a letter calling for the allocation in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo dated Sept. 24. Thirty-three other elected officials representing Brooklyn in state, city and federal government signed onto the letter. Approximately 80 percent of Brooklynites live in hard-to-count neighborhoods, according to Census Hard To Count Map 2020.

“This amount is justified by the considerable challenge of achieving a full count here and is proportional to distribution of funds recommended by the Fiscal Policy Institute,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was shared with the Brooklyn Eagle. “An undercount in Brooklyn would be an unmitigated disaster not only for the people we represent, but the entire state. Billions of dollars in federal aid programs could be lost.”

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In April, the state budget allocated $20 million in funding for Census outreach efforts. But with months to go before the count begins, the funds have not yet been released, and state authorities haven’t shared a plan for distributing the money, the letter claims.

The funds Myrie and other lawmakers are requesting would come out of the $20 million pot, though the state has not said how much would be dedicated to Brooklyn.

“The Complete Count Commission has heard testimony and received comments from local governments, grassroots organizations and the general public across New York State, and we are awaiting the Commission’s recommendations on how best to leverage the up to $20 million made available in the State Budget, existing state resources, and our partnerships with organizations on the ground so that we can maximize outreach efforts and get every New Yorker counted,” said state budget office spokesperson Freeman Klopott.

The decennial federal count is critical to determining how funds are distributed to communities across the nation, including the allocation of Section 8, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Medicaid funds, as well as determining the number of U.S. House of Representative seats for the state of New York. The state currently has 27 members as part of the New York delegation, with some projections showing the state could potentially lose two seats following the federal count, according to the New York Post.

Brooklyn had the lowest mail return rate in the country among counties with populations of 500,000 or more. Of the 500 census tracts most at-risk of an undercount, almost half are located in the borough, according to the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

Meanwhile the city has allocated $40 million toward Census outreach efforts under the “Get Counted NYC” campaign. On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of New York City Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees (“NOCCs”). The program aims to recruit 2,500 volunteer “Census Ambassadors” citywide to engage in local Census-related outreach, with the ultimate goal of significantly increasing New York City’s response rate in the 2020 count, according to the public announcement.

According to the official Census website, the federal count starts on March 1, 2020.

“A potential undercount poses a grave risk to the rights, livelihood and wellbeing of millions of people in Brooklyn and across the state. Our community is doing everything in our power to prepare for the Census because we take that risk seriously. We trust that the state will, too,” the letter concluded.

Update (Sept. 25 at 3:33 p.m.): Story has been updated with a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. 

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