Updated: May 1
By Olivia Winslow
As the U.S. Census Bureau gears up for its once-a-decade count of the nation's population, there are efforts underway across Long Island to urge everyone to fill out a 2020 Census questionnaire, particularly among groups considered at risk of being undercounted, such as immigrants and minorities.
Efforts on the East End by a few groups are focused on Latinos and other immigrant populations. Another effort is centered on American Indians in Suffolk County. These are among a host of outreach campaigns from government, nonprofit agencies, businesses and others to encourage residents to fill out the census, which is scheduled to start showing up in mailboxes between Thursday and March 20.
For the first time, residents will have the option to answer the census by mail, phone or online.
Meesha N. Johnson, a graduate social work student at Stony Brook University, and Carolyn Peabody, a clinical full professor who chairs the Community, Policy and Political Social Action Specialization in Stony Brook's School of Social Welfare, are heading a group focused on census outreach directed at Suffolk's four American Indian tribes: the Montaukett, Setalcott, Shinnecock and Unkechaug.
"We are concerned about an undercount," Peabody said in a recent interview about the efforts of the ad hoc group known as "We are Still Here! Be Counted in 2020! Indigenous Suffolk 2020 Census Project." She added, "There have been serious undercounts in the past."
Johnson, who is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and lives on the tribe's reservation in Southampton, said when she interned in U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin's office one summer, she fielded calls from tribal leadership "concerned they didn't get fair funding after the 2010 Census. It was impacting a lot of stuff 10 years later," Johnson said. "They were noticing the impact."
The census count, mandated every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution, affects the distribution of an estimated $675 billion annually in federal money to more than 100 programs, and the apportionment of each state's Congressional representatives.
"We're' going to have to get people out, endeavor to reach out to other communities," Johnson said, pointing to American Indian clusters outside of tribal lands in places like Bellport, East Hampton and Bay Shore. "We want to get our youth involved to do social media campaigns."
Peabody added the group planned to go to people's homes, barber shops, hair salons, supermarkets and churches.
OLA of Eastern Long Island is focusing census outreach in the Latino and immigrant communities in East Hampton Town and Southampton Town, said Sandra Dunn, associate director, and is teaming with another advocacy group, SEPA Mujer, to maximize impact.
"On the East End, [people] tend to feel isolated," Dunn said. "OLA decided it made sense to create a complete count committee, one for East Hampton Town and one for Southampton Town." Dunn added that "the purpose is to bring community leaders from different sectors together" to boost census participation.
The census "self-response rate" for New York in 2010 was 65%, according to the Census Bureau. April 1 is "Census Day," with the Bureau hoping people respond by then or soon thereafter. The bureau is slated to send out census takers to households that have not responded through the summer.
Rebecca Sanin, president and chief executive of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, who is coordinating the Island's "Complete Count Committee," praised these and other efforts to encourage census participation. "There's been a tremendous amount of education," Sanin said. She added a cautionary note. "People in 2020 don't like people knocking on their door," so the goal was to get people to complete the census in March and April to "avoid that door knock" that is set to begin in May.
"We're targeting hard-to-count communities," Dunn said. "For us, we're heavily focused on outreach in Spanish to Latino members, whether immigrants or born here." In addition to giving census presentations in a variety of places, the agency posts short videos, some of which feature community members, talking about the importance of filling out the census, Dunn said.
Martha Maffei, executive director of SEPA Mujer, which, translated from Spanish stands for Services for the Advancement of Women, and is an immigrant rights group that has chapters in Hampton Bays, Riverside, Huntington Station and Patchogue, also is posting census videos.
The group's Patchogue coalition has even created a comic book about the census for the immigrant community to appeal to those with limited English-speaking ability. The goal, Maffei said, is "educating people they shouldn't be afraid."