Opinion Pieces

Op-ed: Please, please, please fill out your census questionnaire

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Washington, October 1, 2020 | Stuart Malec ((202) 225-5516) | comments

Please, please, please fill out your census questionnaire


As of today, nearly 40% of New Yorkers have not yet self-responded to the census. This is alarming — especially since we are no longer sure when the deadline to fill out the census will be.

Recently, a federal judge issued a ruling preventing the Trump administration from ending the count by Sept. 30, a month before the scheduled, COVID-19-extended completion date of Oct. 31. On Sept. 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided to uphold the federal judge’s ruling. This ruling is welcome news. However, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross most recently announced Oct. 5 as a “target date” for ending all 2020 Census efforts, in defiance of the ruling.

So to be safe, we must operate under the assumption that the deadline to complete the census is this upcoming Monday, Oct. 5. We cannot take any chances. Because the implications of an undercount are far too great.

Responses collected from the census are used to determine where $1.5 trillion in annual federal funding is sent annually over the next decade. The population count and demographic data from the census are used to decide which communities get more of this funding, and which get less.

To highlight just how much is at stake, consider this example: In New York’s Fourth Congressional District, just a 1% undercount would result in the loss of $110,000 in education funding for the district. That is the equivalent of a year’s worth of textbooks for 440 students. For each child that’s undercounted, New York City loses $2,295 in federal funding. Undercounting just 1% of children in NYC would mean a loss of $7.3 million annually.

But it’s not just education money on the line. It’s funding for hospitals, fire departments, libraries and roads. It’s funding for Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and so many other critical government programs and services. The list goes on and on.

Simply put: the more people we count here in New York, the more federal funding our communities will receive. And that’s why we are urging you to complete the census before it’s too late.

As voices from New York City and Long Island, we are teaming up because this is not a city issue or a Long Island issue — it’s a message that all of New York needs to hear and it’s especially important to our communities. Minority communities are historically undercounted in the census, and we cannot let that happen this time around. And New York State could lose up to two congressional seats. That would be two fewer people in Washington representing our state and our needs.

The 2020 Census is only a few questions. It will take just 10 minutes of your time to help determine the level of federal funding that your community will receive over the next 10 years.

This year, it is easier than ever to participate. You can fill out the census in three ways: online at My2020Census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020, or through the mail by returning the form that was sent to you. 

We also understand there are some misconceptions and fears circulating about the census, and we want to address them.

First of all, there is no citizenship question. The U.S. Constitution requires the census to count every living person in the United States, regardless of their citizenship, and will not and cannot ask for you or anyone in your household’s citizenship status.

Secondly, when you participate in the census, your privacy is protected. By law, the information you provide in your responses cannot be released to anyone, including law enforcement, immigration officials, or even your landlord. None of the information in your responses can be used against you by a government agency or court.

Fear is understandable. There are those who are intentionally spreading misconceptions to ensure that certain communities are undercounted, resulting in less federal funding for those communities. These forces want to prey on your fears. Do not listen to them.


So please, we urge you to participate and to encourage your friends and family to participate as well. Every voice matters. And we have to make sure that every voice counts.

Menin is director of NYC Census 2020 and executive assistant corporation council in the New York City Law Department. Rice serves New York’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House.

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