EDITORIAL

Calarco: It is almost time to stand up and be counted

Rob Calarco, Suffolk County Presiding Officer
Posted 2/13/20

Every 10 years, the Constitution mandates that we undergo a census to determine how many people are living in the United States. The numbers collected in 2020 are going to shape the next decade for …

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EDITORIAL

Calarco: It is almost time to stand up and be counted

Posted

Every 10 years, the Constitution mandates that we undergo a census to determine how many people are living in the United States. The numbers collected in 2020 are going to shape the next decade for Suffolk County. The data collected will be used to allocate funds for things like schools, hospitals, roads, and other critical programs. This is our one opportunity to make sure that every person is counted and we get our fair share of the pie.

The census is a 10-part questionnaire that is sent to each household in the U.S. It asks your name, age, gender, race, and whether you rent or own your home. It will also ask about each additional person living in your home. It is important that each person in your household is accurately represented so that we do not have an undercount in Suffolk County. While not every question must be answered on the survey, if you do not answer enough questions it will be considered incomplete and you risk not being counted.

In 2020, the census is going online for the first time, making it even easier for each person to fill out the census questionnaire. For those without access to a computer or the internet, you still have the option to respond by mail or over the phone. The count will begin in March when notices are mailed to each household. Starting in May, door-to-door census takers will go to each house that has not responded to make sure that everyone is included.

Suffolk County sends more money to the State and Federal governments than we get back. A 2013 report by the Long Island Association showed that Long Island pays $57.5 billion per year to Washington and Albany but we only receive $29.8 billion. Each year, the federal government will distribute about $675 billion in federal funding based on data collected in the census. Just as importantly, seats in the House of Representatives will also be reapportioned based on an updated redistribution of the population. New York’s votes in the Electoral College will be adjusted based on the census. After the last census, New York actually lost two congressional seats.

These are the stakes if we fail to get an accurate picture of Suffolk’s population: less money from Washington, fewer representatives fighting on our behalf, and a diminished say in who the President of the United States will be.

Yet, Suffolk County is the fourth-hardest county to count in New York State because we have large populations of residents who are immigrants or foreign born, people of color, rural communities, low-income homes, seniors, and young children. These populations have historically been undercounted in the census. To reach each of these groups early, Suffolk County started the 2020 Complete Count Committee. They have been working diligently for the past few years to reach out to each of these communities, and it is almost time to put those plans into action.

There is a major shadow that hangs over the 2020 census, and that is the citizenship question. President Trump sought to include an additional question in this census that would ask if the respondent is a U.S. citizen. After a lengthy court battle, the citizenship question was barred from the census because the question was determined to have the potential to suppress responses from immigrants. That potential is already being experienced as many immigrants, regardless of their status, have expressed fear and that they will abstain from responding. Many citizens and undocumented people alike will choose to forego this decade’s count because they do not want to share their information with a government they do not trust. It is important to know that by federal law, no personal information you provide to the census can be given to any other federal agency or state government. Regardless of your position on immigration, failure to count every person who calls Suffolk home will result in a negative impact to every Suffolk resident. 

For our schools, our roads, our hospitals, and for so many more services it is critically important that we all stand and be counted.

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