County Executive Steve Bellone on Wednesday launched a grassroots effort to ensure the 2020 census produces a full count of county residents so Suffolk isn't shortchanged on elected representatives or funding for everything from school lunches to highways.
In a news conference with 16 community leaders to announce the Suffolk County Complete Count Committee, Bellone said local outreach was crucial because 40 percent of Suffolk communities were considered “hard to count." Officials noted that in some communities, only 54 percent of residents responded to initial requests to return their 2010 census forms.
“It’s imperative that we count everyone we can,” Bellone said. “No matter whether it's rich or poor, upstate or downstate, everyone must be heard.”
Census officials said they expected Nassau to kick off its own census campaign next week.
The once-a-decade U.S. census determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives and provides states with data to draw new district lines for federal, state and local offices.
The population numbers also will be used to determine allocation of $675 billion in federal funds annually.
The counting locally doesn't begin until March 2020, with final numbers delivered by year’s end .
But the U.S. Census Bureau is already organizing for the recruiting and training of personnel to help gather data. Those seeking work can apply online at https://2020census.gov/jobs or call 855-JOB-2020.
Suffolk County officials will host a census jobs fair on Feb. 28. Positions will pay $17 to $35.50 an hour.
Ian Hull, U.S. Census deputy regional director, said all information collected in the 2020 census will remain confidential and be used only for statistical purposes.
"Needless to say we have to get this right,” Hull said.
For the first time, officials also are pressing for people to respond to the census online, although they also can respond by telephone or mail-in forms. Census officials follow up with door-to-door canvassing.
David Okorn, executive director of the Long Island Community Foundation, said a consortium of nonprofits and other groups across the state had obtained commitments for $1.5 million in funding to reach out to communities to promote the census. The groups aim to raise $3 million by next year, Okorn said.
He also said the groups jointly had asked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to invest $60 million to make sure New York residents were fully counted.
Bellone, whom Cuomo this week named to a statewide census commission, would not say if he supports that level of state funding. But Bellone said he was confident Cuomo would allocate the resources necessary, “to get the job done.”