As the 2020 census approaches on April 1, Stony Brook University is forming a 2020 Census Complete Count Committee.
With Nassau and Suffolk being the hardest-to-count counties in New York State, Stony Brook University was invited to take part in Nassau and Suffolk County Complete Count Committees that aim to safeguard an accurate count for the Long Island region.
Lawmakers utilize census data to determine which regions need federal funding for schools, healthcare, housing and infrastructure, among other things. These numbers, which provide community demographics, are also used by businesses as they plan to introduce products in different locations.
Community Relations Director Joan Dickinson, who is a leading organizer of the 12-person committee, is seeking students, faculty and staff from the Stony Brook community interested in the plan to inform Stony Brook University students and faculty about the impacts of census information and encourage participation.
“I would like to see are people from different areas of the campus who are willing to go back to their respective departments and areas and share information [about the 2020 Census],” Dickinson said. “Make sure people understand what’s at stake. Without an accurate count, we’re losing funding. We’re losing money.”
A committee member’s role would be to reach out to students and faculty, explaining why completing the census is important and why it’s important for the future of the community.
In the 2010 census, Dickinson said New York State lost two seats in Congress “because the numbers didn’t correlate to having as many as we had. So it’s really important for our representation in Albany and in Washington that we get as complete count as possible.”
Aside from allocating funds within communities, the size of a state’s congressional delegation determines the size of its representation in the U.S. Electoral College. New York’s congressional representation could drop from 27 to 25 seats if the population is undercounted even by 0.6%.
Community organizations, such as the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island (HWCLI), also use census data to pave the way for social mobility programs and community action projects by looking into populations that are being disenfranchised.
HWCLI is a nonprofit umbrella organization for health and human service suppliers. Through advocacy, research and coalition building, HWCLI serves Long Island’s socially and economically-deprived by collaborating with government, nonprofit and corporate organizations to address their needs.
When addressing hunger and malnutrition on Long Island, for example, HWCLI called the Anti-Hunger Task Force — a New York State organization focused on combating hunger — to share information on community eligibility for school meal programs as well as the effect of federal cuts on food pantries.
President and Chief Executive Officer of HWCLI, Rebecca Sanin, said she is determined to create a sustainable future for all of Long Island’s communities.
“One of the ways in which we influence government is to understand what the budget cycle looks like, and be able to help address needs that we have in our region in tandem with legislation that’s being created,” she said. “We are helping folks who are in elected positions really understand the health of human services needs in our region and giving them what they need to effectively represent all families.”
The significance of census data, according to Sanin, is that it provides numbers for budget projections and perspectives on population trends. Census data impacts funding for healthcare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance.
Sanin said that the challenges in having effective counts in the census stem from the federal government not investing enough in outreach efforts, Long Island’s weak affordable housing stock — people living in unregistered or substandard housing — and the fear of facing scrutiny from getting access to health and human services.
28% of Long Island’s population lives in hard-to-count communities, including 56% of the Hispanic population, about 63% of the African American population and nearly half of all foreign-born Long Islanders.
“The goal of the complete town committee is to effectively work on those hard-to-count populations and communities and do everything we can to explain that this is the single best thing a parent can do to secure the child’s future,” she said. “A single most important thing you can use to secure the sustainability of your region that we need you and we need people to count in addition to the city.”
Director of Student Community Development at Stony Brook, Emily R. Snyder, is also working with Dickinson to spread resources and information about the census committee within the Stony Brook community. Synder said that her department focuses its efforts on community engagement, especially with students living off-campus.
Commuter students are among the most undercounted populations, “so we’re here to support however way we can to make sure that our students who are living off campus understand that it’s important that they complete the census as well, that they’re not being necessarily accounted for by their parents at home, but that they’re actually responding locally,” she said.