Queens Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez entreats constituents to help increase census participation

FIle Photo: Max Parrott/QNS

At a town hall that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held on the 2020 census in East Elmhurst on Saturday, Feb. 22, she hammered home a message about the decennial population survey: the stakes are high.

The results of the survey will determine how much of $650 billion in federal funding gets designated to New York for public education, public housing, roads, bridges and more. It also controls the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. If undercounted, the city’s census bureau warns, it could lose up to two congressional seats.

With the census officially starting on March 12, federal and city census agencies gathered with Ocasio-Cortez’s constituents to stress the public benefits of a comprehensive census count and troubleshoot any questions ahead of time. 

“And undercount will affect every neighborhood adversely for the next 10 years. You get one opportunity every 10 years to get this right and we have to work together,” said Jeff Behler, the director of the New York branch of the Federal Census Bureau.

The census is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years to determine the entire population of the U.S. and where each person lives. In March, the self-response phase of outreach will begin. Every household in the country will receive a letter from the Census Bureau with information about how to fill out the census online. This is the first time ever that the census will be available online and by phone.

On May 13, the follow-up phase will begin, where the census bureau will deploy staff to door knock on residences that failed to respond to first phase. This outreach will last until July. 

In 2010, Queens had the second lowest self-response rate of all five boroughs after Brooklyn. Only 61.7 percent of Queens residents responded during the first phase of outreach. The city’s average was not much higher: a 61.9 percent self-response rate.

In her remarks, Ocasio-Cortez personalized the impacts of the census for her district. 

“We all know Corona is one of the most crowded school districts in the entire city and state. One of the contributing reasons is because this neighborhood is undercounted,” she said.

The congresswoman entreated those at the town hall to act as ambassadors to their neighbors by encouraging them to fill it out – especially those of them who are multilingual. While the phone and internet self-response census will be available in 12 non-English languages, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that in Jackson Heights, Corona and Sunnyside there are more than 200 languages spoken.

NYC Census 2020, an agency organized by the mayor’s office, has also hired a host of community groups in Queens to do outreach on behalf of the census, often with a focus on reaching immigrant or non-English-speaking communities.

At the outset of the meeting, the agencies listed Allen A.M.E. Neighborhood Preservation and Development Corp., Adhikaar, MinKwon Center for Community Action, Desis Rising Up and Moving, Chhaya CDC and Sunnyside Community Services, among 25 others.

As far as the actual hiring efforts of the census bureau itself, Behler said that recruiting is several thousand ahead of its goal. As the self-response comes to a close, the agency will hire in the range of 5,000 to 8,000 staff in Queens depending on what the self-response rates are.