New York City’s Congressional Delegation Demands Full Funding for 2020 Census

New York's congressional lawmakers point to problems with field operations in census offices in Brooklyn and Queens in 2010

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, left, flanked by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Will Bredderman/Observer

New York City’s congressional delegation is calling on the U.S. Department of Commerce to support full funding for the 2020 Census, arguing that any inaccuracies in counting residents could translate into an unfair reduction in federal funding.

In a letter announced Thursday, the delegation wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on June 30 that despite being heavily populated, New York City is typically undercounted in the Census, which translates into the city and state losing out on key federal support.

The lawmakers — all of them Democrats — noted that in 2010, problems with field operations in two Census Bureau offices in Brooklyn and in Queens led to large numbers of housing units being incorrectly labeled as vacant. New York state would get “less than its fair share” of some $400 billion distributed every year by the federal government if there are any inaccuracies, they wrote.

Ross acknowledged the importance of the federal data produced by the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau during his confirmation hearing earlier this year. But New York’s members of Congress expressed concern about reports that the Census Bureau has proposed delaying the openings of local offices, canceling tests to corroborate new procedures and eliminating public communication and engagement tools because of “anticipated budget cutbacks.”

“All of these decisions would have a disproportionately detrimental impact on New York City and the New York metropolitan area, which account for 4.4 percent and 10 percent of America’s economy, respectively,” the lawmakers wrote. “That is why we ask that you support sufficient funding levels for the Census Bureau over the next three years to avoid cutting and canceling these programs.”

Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke, one of the letter’s signatories, said that they need “sufficient resources” to count every individual in the city “to guarantee their full participation.”

“As the population of New York City continues to expand, our needs increase,” Clarke said in a statement. “But historically, communities of color and immigrant families have been undercounted and, therefore, undeserved. In the 2010 Census, for example, some neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn were reported to have lost population, despite the fact that the population had clearly increased.”

Queens Rep. Joe Crowley, who also serves as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, echoed similar sentiments.

“I am calling on the U.S. Department of Commerce to allocate appropriate funding for the 2020 Census to ensure New York is accurately represented and to avoid the previous undercounts that have impacted the fair representation and fair share of resources my Queens and Bronx constituents deserve,” Crowley said in a statement.

The letter’s signatories also include Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Rep. Grace Meng from Queens, who is also the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee; Brooklyn Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

The letter was also signed by Bronx Rep. José Serrano, Upper Manhattan Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks, Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel, Nassau County Rep. Thomas Suozzi and Manhattan Rep. Jerrold Nadler.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also added his voice, too.

“You can’t plan to serve the people of this nation unless you know who they are and what their needs are,” de Blasio said in a statement. “It’s essential to good policy, regardless of one’s political affiliation or geography. Every person counts.”

A spokesman for the Census Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the letter, the delegation noted that Congress directed the Census Bureau to spend no more on the 2020 Census than it did on the 2010 Census “without sacrificing data quality or increasing operational risk.”

But they said the costs of federal data collection efforts have increased substantially over the past several decades — a trend that they say is particularly apparent with the decennial census.

The Census Bureau, they noted, has kicked off a series of innovations in data collection and field operations to help mitigate costs. They said that while the new counting methods and real-time operational innovations “show great promise,” they have to be tested adequately “before they can be confidently deployed in the 2020 Census.”