The challenges facing the 2020 census have been unprecedented -- from delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic to controversies in counting immigrants and the current legal battle over when the counting can end.
But for Long Island government, nonprofit and community leaders, their focus remains on one thing: Reaching Long Islanders who haven't yet answered the census questionnaire, whether online, on the phone or through the mail.
People may respond online at my2020census.gov, or call 1-844-330-2020.
"This moving deadline makes it more urgent than ever for people to respond today," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said of the shifting dates for ending the enumeration.
While Nassau County has led the state in its census self-response rate -- it was 74.2% Wednesday -- the rates in some low-income and minority areas were lower. It was 60% in Roosevelt and 65.9% in a census tract in Hempstead, for example, which means census takers have to go knocking on the doors of those who haven't yet responded.
Curran said the county has worked with community groups at food distribution sites and elsewhere promoting the census. "The push is on, pedal to the metal, to get this done," she said.
Some months ago, the Trump administration said it would end the count Oct. 31 due to the pandemic delays, but then changed course, saying it would end enumeration Sept. 30.
Last week, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to stick to the original Oct. 31 deadline. But this week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the count would end Oct. 5, despite the judge's ruling, continuing the court battle to decide the date.
"This changing date has a significant impact on the community, in terms of its faith in government" and threatens the accuracy and success of the census, said Rebecca Sanin, president and chief executive of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, which is coordinating the census efforts by organizations in both counties.
Sanin added, "We need to take all of these assaults and efforts to suppress an accurate count to be motiviated to do everything we can to get every person counted."
The stakes are high, she said.
The census has an impact on the number of seats states get in the House of Representatives, in state legislative redistricting, and the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion in federal aid annually to states and municipalities. Many on Long Island, and elsewhere, fear that could be imperiled by a botched count.
"I think we’ve always had that concern as to whether the count will be accurate for Suffolk County," said Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter. "And the continual changing dates and trying to rush the process, we are concerned." Of particular concern was the low self-response rates in several East End towns, which ranged from 32.3% in Shelter Island, and 34.7% in East Hampton, to a high of 61.4% in Riverhead. Suffolk overall had a self-response rate of 67.9% Wednesday.
Baird-Streeter said the "senior census partnership specialist" she often consulted with had been pulled from the county Sept. 25. "So I do know census has reduced personnel in our region."
Baird-Streeter said Suffolk's effort included doing radio public service announcements about the census and text messaging 215,000 households providing links to the census website.
Howard Fienberg, co-director of the Census Project, and vice president of advocacy for Insights Association, a trade group for the marketing research and data analytics industry, said his group was lobbying Congress to grant the bureau more time because accuracy in the census, the once-a-decade count of the nation's population enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, was critical.
"Even in an ordinary census year, you’d expect to find a fair amount of error in the nonresponse follow-up: double counting, people ending up in the wrong place, entire households never counted in the first place," Fienberg said. For a census where the actual counting of people was delayed due to the pandemic, the rush to finish the count and deliver it to the president by Dec. 31 could adversely impact not only redistricting, but data analysis that affects business decisions, he said.
He noted the bureau said that just over 98% of New York's population, as well as the nation's, was counted, "but that doesn’t tell us how accurate the information they collected might be. So anything they can do to extend the deadlines … would give the bureau time to complete not just the count itself but give the proper five months of data review and processing."