2000 Deadline Approaches:
Counting On The Money For Queens
By RICHARD SCHACK
A third grader sits in a
hallway learning from photocopied pages while a newly settled immigrant searches through a
phone book in his new home for someone to explain what he needs to know about taxes.
Somewhere in Queens a car tire just blew out in the abyss of a pothole, and garbage cans
stuffed to overflowing spill trash onto the sidewalk.
It all counts for a
better quality of life, but according to Borough President Claire Shulman and the U.S.
Census Bureau, Queens has just one more week to get 56 percent of its residents counted.
And each person who goes uncounted will means less state and city funding for the borough
for education, road and bridge repair, child care in the decade to come.
nationwide objective was to have 63 percent of all census questionnaires mailed in by this
week. In Queens, less than 44 percent were in as of presstime, putting the borough below
the current actual nation-wide participation level of 53 percent. Since the nation was
falling behind, the deadline which had been April 1 was extended to April
Once the new deadline
passes, enumerators (temporary Census Bureau employees) will visit homes which did not yet
return the form and try to help with the process to increase the response numbers.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, shown with
the 2000 Census bus in the Queens part of her district was one of many local officials who
took the Census cause to the street.
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
"The last census
undercount cost New York, and Queens, billions of dollars. We cant let that happen
again," said Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for Council Speaker Peter Vallone, member
of the Councils Subcommittee on the Census 2000.
"This is not even so
much about being counted as it is the boroughs getting their fair share from Washington to
keep classes small, fix our roads and bridges, and increase child care," Barowitz
And according to the
Barowitz, it is clear that the stakes are high. California allocated $30 million in state
funds for their census awareness campaign.
Meanwhile New York State
allocated no funding to awareness, but a grassroots effort has the words "U.S.
Census" on everything from buses to pins and postage cancellation marks. Local
politicians have been calling for awareness in ever increasing numbers as the weeks go by,
while civic and immigrant groups have gone door to door to remind their neighbors.
Outreach is even underway in homeless shelters.
Queens lags behind and Councilman John Sabini, a member of the city Councils
Subcommittee on the Census 2000, explains "urban areas traditionally lag behind
suburban ones in participation, and [we have] a large number of new immigrants who have
never before experienced the census."
Borough President Claire
Shulman told the Tribune, "As far as the low numbers, I believe a lot of that
can be blamed on people not actually receiving the census forms." She said that her
office has been bombarded with calls by residents who claim their forms never came.
"Also, in Queens there
are a large number of three family houses, but oftentimes only the owners and not the
other two families in the house receive the forms," she said. She urged anyone who
did not receive their forms to contact the Borough Presidents office or find out
about the "Be Counted" center in their neighborhood.
In her first State of the
Borough Address in the new century, Shulman stressed the need for the 2000 Census to
correctly count the number of Queens residents both immigrant and life-long.
Describing it as the key to the future of the borough, she said, "Remember the
resources we receive in Queens depends on the number of people living here."
ON THE IMMIGRANTS
how bad the undercount was in 1990 and how important the census is this year, more
immigrants should be sending in their forms. Its not that surprising, though, [that
they are not]" said Ellen Young, president of the Chinese American Voters Association
and executive director of the Flushing Business Association.
"Many [new immigrants]
are not used to participating in surveys, and have a mistrust for government. Illegal
aliens are afraid of being deported if they send the forms back," Young explained.
But according to Census
2000 Queens spokesperson Babooram Rambisson, "They have nothing to fear. By law, the
Census Bureau cannot share the individual answers it receives with others, including the
Immigration and Naturalization Services, welfare agencies, the Internal Revenue Service,
courts, police, or the military. Anyone who breaks this law can receive up to five years
in prison and $5,000 in fines."
However, the fear of
deportation is not the only problem. Young has organized several Census Service Centers to
help immigrants fill out their forms and she has run into a number of other problems with
the forms and the process itself. Requests for forms in other languages have not been
filled in a timely fashion as the deadline approaches and "race options" simply
dont mix with Queens diversity.
Some organizers of the
local immigrant communities have voiced concerns that the "race" options on the
census forms is confusing in its wording, and the large number of choices will result in
some mixed peoples being separated into categories they do not truly belong in.
afraid of is that there are so many choices for race that many people of the same race
wont be counted as so," said New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) founder
Bryan Pu-Folkes. There are dozens of options for ethnic background on the Census forms,
and although residents can choose as many of the choices as deemed necessary, they will
end up being categorized into one of 10 major ethnic groups.
Rambisson defends the
options and breakdowns. "This is the first time people can describe themselves as
whatever they want. Both public and private organizations use race, origin, and ancestry
information to find areas where groups may need special services and to plan and implement
education, housing, health and other programs. For example, a school system might use this
information to design cultural activities that reflect the diversity in their
Young concluded that the
message which must go out to the immigrant community is this, "The census is not just
an obligation for immigrants its our right. As long as were using
public funding, we have to let the government know who, what, and where we are to get what
we truly deserve."
Bureau has opened a number of "Be Counted" sites in Queens where un-addressed
census forms are available. The sites can be used by anyone, including people who, for
some reason, did not receive a questionnaire at home or who were excluded from their
household questionnaire. The forms also allow those without conventional housing to
complete a questionnaire if they were not counted through other initiatives.
The "Be Counted"
sites, which will be open until April 11, are free of charge and are to be found in
Queens libraries, meeting halls, community centers, and schools. Hours of site
availability vary. For more information on "Be Counted" sites and Questionnaire
Assistance Centers in your neighborhood, call the Census Bureaus New York Regional
the federal government distributes over $180 billion in federal funds based on what the
census says about neighborhoods, according to Rambisson. New York State also uses the
figures in its funding calculations, Rambisson added.
Sabini noted that what it
all means is, "the few minutes people spend on their census forms can affect their
lives for the next 10 years."
Census numbers help city
planners pick the best locations for schools, roads, hospitals, clinics, libraries,
playgrounds, bus routes, job training programs, day-care and senior centers. Businesses
use census numbers to locate supermarkets and shopping centers, new housing, factories,
offices, and facilities like movie theaters and restaurants.
Although individual records
are held confidential for 72 years, you can request a certificate from past censuses for
use as proof of your age, residence or information which could help qualify you for a
pension, establish citizenship, or obtain an inheritance.
Every year since 1790 there
has been a U.S. Census, but the tradition of a government counting its people can be
traced back through two millenniums through the Biblical story that sent Mary and Joseph
back to Bethlehem because Cesar had ordered that everyone be counted.
years "short" forms are the shortest there has been in 180 years.
Five subjects that appeared
on the 1990 census forms are now gone from the short version, including things such as the
year you last worked, your source of water, and your condominium status.
Five other questions
including marital status, units in your housing structure, number of rooms in your home,
value of your home, and your monthly rent have just been moved from the short
version to the "long form" questionnaires.
One out of every six
households will randomly receive the long forms which take nearly four times as long to
complete, and include questions about a broad range of subjects, from education and
ancestry to home heating and grandparents as caregivers.
"They may seem like a
hassle," said Rambisson, "but the long form questionnaires are very important.
Community leaders use the forms in deciding neighborhood revitalization, economic
development, and improved facilities and services."
This year Census 2000
questionnaires are available in six different languages, including English, Spanish,
Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. And in some more diverse communities of Queens,
special questionnaires my be available in additional languages.
Bureaus New York Regional Census Center can be reached at 212-620-7702/3 or you can
visit their website at www.census.gov.
For more information about Census jobs,
call he Census toll-free at 1-888-325-7733.