New York funders gear up for 2020 census challenges

The New York Community Trust has joined with other funders in the state to create the New York State Grantmakers for Census Equity.
The New York Community Trust has joined with other funders in the state to create the New York State Grantmakers for Census Equity.
Images by Shutterstock, illustration by Zach Williams
The New York Community Trust has joined with other funders in the state to create the New York State Grantmakers for Census Equity.

New York funders gear up for 2020 census challenges

A new fund aims to support efforts for a fair and accurate census.
July 2, 2018

The New York Community Trust has joined with other funders in the state to create the New York State Grantmakers for Census Equity which plans to raise $1 to $2 million to help mobilize local and statewide efforts to make the 2020 Census accurate and fair, spokespersons with the trust told New York Nonprofit Media.

The collaboration of funders includes the New York Foundation, The New York Community Trust and its divisions – the Long Island Community Foundation and the Westchester Community Foundation – and other funders. They will make grants through the New York State Census Equity Fund which will be administered by The New York Community Trust and support education and outreach efforts, public policy advocacy, messaging and communication, and research and evaluation. The group’s formation was announced by Patricia Swann, senior program officer at The New York Community Trust, during Philanthropy New York’s recent annual meeting.

"The disruptive citizenship question is a significant threat to a proper census." - Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits.

Changes to the decennial census have nonprofits and their funders concerned about the effects that potentially unprecedented under-reporting could have on federal funding. At stake is $53 billion that the federal government funnels to New York state through programs whose funding formulas rely on data derived from the headcount. Concerns have also spurred the formation of a coalition of immigrant, religious, health, social services, business groups and other stakeholders working in partnership with state and local government officials called New York Counts.

The New York State Grantmakers for Census Equity is currently in the process of securing verbal commitments for contributions and fleshing out its grant-making strategy. An anonymous donor has committed $100,000, said Sol Marie Alfonso-Jones, senior program officer at the Long Island Community Foundation. The New York Community Trust is also accepting donations from individuals, a spokesperson with The Trust said.

The Trump administration has called for changes to the 2020 Census that some believe could have devastating effects on its accuracy, according to critics. These include the reinsertion of a question on citizenship status and a shift towards submitting census data online.

According to a memorandum released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the purpose of adding the citizenship question is to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. But experts say this question will directly impair the headcount.

In a statement before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits, said “The disruptive citizenship question is a significant threat to a proper census." He also pointed out that "Undercounts of demographic groups that charitable nonprofits serve can lead to inadequate representation and funding, which in turn increases pressure on nonprofits.”

Children are especially at risk of being undercounted. The 2010 census undercounted almost one million young children, according to analysts with Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. The problem appears set to worsen in 2020.

The recently released 2018 Kids Count Data Book published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation warns that the upcoming census could undercount more than one million children under the age of five.

Around 300 children’s programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, received a total of $800 billion in federal funding in Fiscal Year 2015, based on data derived from the census, according to the Kids Count Data Book. “When kids aren’t counted, communities don’t get their fair share of federal dollars for Head Start, school lunches, public health insurance, housing, child care and myriad other programs and services that help young children in low-income families get a healthy start in life,” the report states.

A push to move the census online is to reduce outreach costs and encourage more responses, according to the Government Accountability Office. Data from the GAO indicates 78 percent of people responded to the mail survey in 1970 and by 2010 that number had dropped to 63 percent.

However, going digital may create further problems: populations historically at-risk for undercounting in the census, including minorities, seniors, and low-income households, are less likely to use the internet, according to statistics from the Pew Research Center. Nonetheless, the Census Bureau’s goal is to have 55 percent of responses submitted online for 2020.

An undercount can have other broader political implications. New York lost two congressional seats due to population declines update according to the 2010 Census. If hard-to-count communities are under-represented, the state could lose another Congressional seat or even two, the New York Community Trust said in a statement to New York Nonprofit Media.

The New York State Grantmakers for Census Equity hopes their pooled fund will allow for the strategic allocation of resources to help mitigate potential undercounts. Possible funded activities include supporting legal service offices to be ready to monitor inappropriate interactions with government employees, helping to strengthen faith-based community organizing networks, and mobilizing parents, individuals in shelters and other clients of nonprofits with the help of census navigators.

“We can’t afford to lose any of this funding because of an inaccurate count,” said Sol Marie Alfonso-Jones, senior program officer at the Long Island Community Foundation, one of the collaborating funds. “Even the loss of half a million could have serious implications.”

David Gentile
David Gentile
is an editorial intern for New York Nonprofit Media.
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