April 1st. It’s here. It’s major. It’s Census Day. It’s an opportunity for every resident of the United States to be counted. The census only comes around once every ten years. It’s the only time each decade that every resident of this country gets the opportunity to be counted, and to have that counting impact the drawing of congressional districts, the number of representatives from their state to the U. S. Congress, and the amount of money our communities get from the $400 billion pie that the federal government distributes.
The good news is that only good things can come from being counted in the census. It results in aid from the federal government to the states. Money that pays for affordable housing, Medicaid payments, goes into creating better schools, smaller classrooms, improved healthcare, road construction, investment in our neighborhoods, safer streets and greater political representation. In New York’s case, this year $25 billion is at stake.
As a Caribbean immigrant, I am well aware, however, of the great fear that many immigrants and others in our community have about giving information about their households to the federal government. I emigrated from Grenada, West Indies years ago. Many of my family members were also successful in gaining legal entry to the States. I know, however, that there are many other individuals from all parts of the world, the Caribbean, Europe, South and Central America, and Asia–many living in communities in Brooklyn–who were not able to enter this country legally. These individuals are often terrified about filling out the census. They are afraid the information will be shared with immigration services and that they, or possibly a family member who lives with them but does not have their ‘papers,’ may be tracked and reported as a result of the information they provide.
Many others in our community fear that the information will be turned over to Homeland Security, legal services, the housing authority, or other government agencies.
This is absolutely untrue.
The truth is that the Census Bureau cannot share the information that you fill out on the census form about yourself and your family with any other government agency. In fact, the information that you and I put down on the census cannot be made public or shared with any other federal agency for another 72 years. For example, the information from the 1940 census will only become public in 2012.
The census’ sole purpose is so the government can get an accurate count of the number of people living in a community and in turn determine the appropriate amount of resources that community should get for education, healthcare, police/fire/emergency services, sanitation, and infrastructure development. It also determines how congressional districts are drawn, and the number of elected representatives from that state to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Answering the census accurately and making sure that all the members of your household are counted will only bring good things to our community. It will only bring greater resources and better representation.
For too long many who live in our community–immigrants, Caribbeans, blacks, Latinos–have been designated as ‘hard-to-count’ populations. Communities like those in Central and North Brooklyn. Like Flatbush, East Flatbush, Crown Heights, Brownsville, East New York, and Bushwick. Communities peopled by immigrants and people of color. This has cost New York hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. That loss means fewer services and less representation.
This year we can and must do better. There is too much at stake. Fill out the census. It takes ten minutes to answer ten questions. That adds up to a whole lot of dollars and a much better future for our children. It’s Our New York. This time, Let’s Make Sure We’re Counted.
If you need help with the form, please contact the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (CACCI) at (718) 287-1870, or visit us at www.caccitradecenter.com. You may also visit the NYS/CACCI Census 2010 Outreach and Mobilization Office at the Flatbush Caton Market at 814 Flatbush Avenue at the corner of Caton Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11226. Bilingual English, Spanish and French/Creole speaking outreach workers will be available to help you 7 days a week. You may also contact the NYS Census offices by visiting http://census2010.ny.gov.
Roy A. Hastick is President and CEO of the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc (CACCI). His organization has partnered with New York State on a comprehensive outreach and mobilization initiative to increase the census response in Brooklyn.