More than 2,000 census takers will fan out across Long Island in the coming days to addresses where people have not responded to the 2020 Census, as the U.S. Census Bureau enters a critical phase in its once-a-decade count of the nation’s population.
At the peak of the operation, about 1,300 census takers are to crisscross Suffolk County, and another 900 will be dispatched in Nassau County, said Jeff Behler, director of the New York Regional Census Bureau office, which covers New York, New Jersey, all of the New England states as well as Puerto Rico.
Behler said Long Islanders should see a good presence of census takers this week. The door knocking — called Nonresponse Follow Up by the bureau — officially began Aug. 11.
“We had thousands of people who’ve applied” and could be tapped should anyone quit, Behler said. In Nassau County, he said, 9,200 people applied for the $23.50-an-hour jobs, while Suffolk had 9,100 applicants. The bureau is offering up to an $800 bonus for census takers who work more than 25 hours per week for at least three consecutive weeks as an incentive in its stepped up timeline for completing the count, Behler said.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, census takers must wear face coverings and carry hand sanitizer, which the bureau provides, Behler said. They will not enter anyone’s home, he said, and they are told “when you knock on the door, back up 6 feet. Don’t go into the home for an interview, stay outside.” Census takers will carry a photo ID and an official badge with an expiration date and a U.S. Commerce Department water seal, Behler said. Residents seeking to verify a census taker’s authenticity may call 844-330-2020.
The door-knocking process comes amid a census facing challenges like no other. The bureau had previously revised its deadlines and paused its field work for several weeks because of the pandemic. After announcing it would request a four-month extension to provide the president with the 2020 census count, the bureau now says it will report by its original deadline — Dec. 31, 2020. To do so, the bureau will end its nonresponse follow up campaign on Sept. 30, a month sooner than previously announced.
Asked about controversies engulfing the census, such as President Donald Trump wanting information on noncitizens and not counting undocumented immigrants, Behler said: “We are not asking citizenship status on the 2020 Census. We are required by law to count everyone living in the United States, not based on a certain status, but everyone.” He added, “I am confident that we have the resources we need in order to get the job of knocking on doors done before Sept. 30.”
Nevertheless, several observers expressed concerns.
According to one researcher, the census count affects the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding annually to states and municipalities within those states.
Some local observers voiced concern about the curtailed follow up.
“We’re very concerned about the shortened time frame and we are calling on our representatives to push for an extension to the end of October,” said Rebecca Sanin, president and chief executive of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, a regional human service provider to poor and vulnerable people.
Sanin, who heads up the Island’s Complete Count Committees, said officials had been meeting virtually to plan events and provide information. “We’ve been convening all of our partners — churches, schools, leaders of color, immigrant leaders every month — providing them with self-response rates down to the community and census tract levels.”
Nassau has the highest self-response rate of New York’s 62 counties, 69.6% as of Aug. 12, according to the U.S. Census, and Suffolk, at 63.3%, “was not bad either,” Sanin said. But those overall county rates mask lower rates in communities with a large presence of minorities, immigrants and low-income residents, groups long considered “hard to count.”
“But when you drill down at tract level data, you see the inequity we have to combat. The same communities hit hardest by COVID, have the lowest [census] response rate,” Sanin said.
That low response rate sparked Pilar Moya-Mancera, executive director of Housing Help Inc. in Greenlawn, to invite Census Bureau representatives to her agency’s free food distribution last week in the parking lot at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station.
“Huntington Station is considered one of the hard to count areas,” Moya-Mancera said. “The population is growing … which means that the needs of the community in Huntington Station are increasing. It means more students in the schools. It means more people at our hospitals or our medical centers. I see a tremendous need for more public transportation. These are all the issues that are important. “