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Queens leaders call for census participation

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When the final U.S. Census 2000 tallies were calculated, New York lost two seats in Congress, in part as a result of low response rates in areas of the state such as Queens with high immigrant populations.

Gov. David Paterson joined Queens elected officials and community leaders at Asian Americans for Equality’s headquarters in Flushing Monday afternoon to announce a collective effort to ensure the state does not suffer a similar fate in the 2010 survey.

A number of governmental functions are determined in large part by Census data, which is collected once every decade. For instance, the number of representatives each state has in the House of Representatives is based on population and the way in which more than $400 billion a year in federal funds for community services is distributed is determined in large part by the data, which is dependent on response rates.

In the 2000 Census, the response rate in many New York immigrant communities was “dismal,” as S.J. Jung, president of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, described Flushing’s rate. The national response rate was 67 percent nationwide that year.

“If you aren’t counted, you don’t exist. Census data is used for so much: schools, hospitals, 911 calling centers, social services that these communities don’t get enough of,” saidGabe Roth, spokesman for the New York Department of State. “The national average for the response rate in the last Census was in the sixties, but in some of the outer boroughs, some of the communities with large minority and immigrant communities, it was in the thirties. That means people aren’t represented.”

One major reason for the low response rate was the fact that many immigrants were unaware that responding to the Census does not endanger their immigration status. In fact, it is unlawful for the Census Bureau to share information with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

“Census is safe, census is important and census is easy, so stand up and be counted,” Jung said.

In hopes of avoiding another under-count, this year’s state budget awarded 31 state grants totaling $2 million to nonprofits and local governments, according to Roth. The grants will help recipients, including Asian Americans for Equality, Make the Road New York, the Hispanic Federation and the Chinese-American Planning Council, complete outreach and marketing campaigns to inform residents about the census and ensure high response rates.

“This type of award is going to benefit all of the people of our state because it will ensure that we get our proper representation in Washington,” Paterson said. “When we get the right numbers and the right resources, it’s little events like this that will have been the catalyst.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 5:44 pm, October 10, 2011
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