BY BENJAMIN FANG
As the 2020 Census count gets underway, Borough Hall has set up an office to help residents take part. Acting Borough President Sharon Lee joined former deputy borough president Melva Miller and the Queens Complete Count Committee last month to cut the ribbon on the new Resource Assistance Center.
The center, located on the second floor, will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 5 through July 31.
“We’ve got prime real estate here at Borough Hall because that’s just how critical it is,” Lee said.
Residents who visit the resource center can access Census outreach materials, ask questions in their own language, and even apply for 2020 Census-related jobs. They can also fill out the nine-question Census form using electronic devices at the resource center. No appointments are required, and walk-ins are welcome.
The Queens Complete Count Committee, which was formed in January 2019 by then-borough president Melinda Katz, will train volunteers to staff the center. The committee is made up of more than 100 community leaders and organizations charged with maximizing participation of the 2020 Census in their neighborhoods.
“We’ve been doing so much legwork because we are the biggest borough,” Lee said, “so we have a lot of ground to cover.”
According to Lee, Queens is the first borough to open a resource assistance center in partnership with Association for a Better New York. Miller, who served as deputy borough president under Katz, now works as executive vice president of ABNY.
Miller said the organization is opening more than 30 of these centers with 14 different partners, such as the Greater New York Hospital Association, as part of a comprehensive strategy to reach as many residents as possible.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, households will begin receiving information in the mail between March 12 and March 20 with detailed information about how to respond to the census online, by phone or email. Between May and July, census workers will visit homes that haven’t responded. The Census Bureau will complete its count on July 31.
Miller said in 2010, the national self-response rate was 76 percent. In Queens, however, that rate was only 67 percent. In some parts of the borough, the response rate was as low as 45 percent.
The census determines not only representation in elected office, but also federal funding for schools, roads, bridges, health services and more. According to Miller, $74 billion gets allocated to New York state alone.
“We can’t lose that money,” she said. “We need that money for the vital services that protect our city, that services the most vulnerable communities like seniors and children.
“We need to do better,” Miller added. “There’s a lot at stake.”
Despite the many challenges to having a complete count, from the aftermath of the attempted citizenship question to the new online form and a reduction in Census Bureau staff, Miller believes New York is in a “really good place” in terms of preparation.
She noted that New York City has invested $40 million on outreach, primarily for trusted community-based organizations. The state has allocated a record $70 million for efforts as well. Ten years ago, the total dollar amount spent on census outreach was closer to $5 million, she said.
In addition to community groups, census outreach includes nontraditional partners, like retailers, banks and even casinos.
“We are prepared not only financially to support the community-based organizations who are the trusted voices in communities,” Miller said, “but we also have the infrastructure and enthusiasm.”