Alarmed by low census mail-in rates in his municipality, Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall said he will go door-to-door Saturday to try to convince residents to participate.
Hall told a news conference Friday he and George Siberón, executive director of the Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association, would try to persuade more residents to turn in their census forms before the April 16 deadline. The Census Bureau is to begin its door-to-door interviewing operation next month.
"I'm asking everyone to please fill out the census form," Hall said at the news conference held jointly with State Senate Democrats. About 50 people - elected officials, community activists and census staff - attended the event at Kennedy Memorial Park recreation center.
The village is among several largely minority communities whose mail response rates lag behind both Long Island's 62 percent rate and the 64 percent national rate.
Hempstead's rate averaged 49 percent Friday. That's well below the 72 percent rate in nearby Garden City, noted Marianela Jordan, Long Island regional director of the New York State Senate Majority Conference.
"The research shows that communities of color have lower response rates," said Jordan, citing an analysis by the City University of New York Graduate Center.
"We need to sound the alarm," she said, standing next to a Hempstead firefighter to illustrate the urgency. "These are communities that are struggling for resources."
An undercount, Hall warned, means reduced federal aid for roads, schools and more. He said one person not counted could mean a loss of as much as $3,000 in federal aid. Multiplying that by 10,000 Hempstead residents, which he suggested the 2000 Census had missed, he claimed the village lost out on a share of $300 million over the last 10 years that New York State could have received.
Others noted obstacles.
"Confidentiality [of the census] is a hard sell," said Siberón, "particularly among people who come from Central America where the government is not necessarily your friend."
Siberón said his group partnered with the Census Bureau to be a resource "because we clearly understand the importance of being counted."