Capitol Notes

Budget hole could swallow up state’s census spending

The state’s investment in a complete count of New Yorkers may not materialize in time for the ongoing census effort.

While last year’s state budget included $20 million for outreach designed to foster participation with the census, none of that money has been distributed after 15 months and it seems unlikely that it will be spent anytime soon without an infusion of cash from Washington D.C. New York’s response rate is currently 4.5 percentage points behind the national average and  ranks near the bottom in the country.

A spokeswoman for Empire State Development, the agency in control of the funds, said in a statement earlier this month, when asked about the status of the $20 million, that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration remains “fully committed” to a complete count and went on to lament the state’s mid-year budget deficit.

The ESD spokeswoman didn’t respond to the obvious follow up question (“To be clear, does this mean there is no guarantee the $20 million from last year’s budget will be distributed?”).

Theoretically the state still has time to distribute the money, as the filing deadline for the census was pushed back to Oct. 31. But it’s unlikely that the money would be as beneficial as if it were released in March like the state planned, or last year when census experts in New York had hoped.

New York Immigration Coalition Senior Census Fellow Meeta Anand told The Capitol Pressroom that the money is a critical part of funding outreach by trusted messengers in communities that are hard to count.

“Groups on the ground have been sitting and waiting and wondering when the census money will reach them,” Anand said.

New York has repeatedly had to adjust its timeline during this process, starting with the work of the state’s Complete Count Commission, which wasn’t formed until early 2019, nearly three weeks after a report was due from the commission.

The commission, which was tasked with preparing the state for the census, had a bumpy existence, with behind the scenes disagreements on how to proceed and what should be prioritized. A final report was produced in October 2019, about nine months late, and it was widely panned as a useless document, failing to do something as basic as identifying funding needs for outreach efforts, which was part of the commission’s initial mandate.

Throughout the process in 2019, advocates and grassroots organizations responsible for the outreach efforts stressed the importance of distributing funding for census preparation as soon as possible. One census expert said in April of last year that the state’s preparations should have been at “full steam” at that point.

A follow up report was due from the commission in January to analyze the implementation of the state’s census preparations, but nothing was produced.

Before the pandemic shutdown New York, SUNY Empire State College made computers available at five of its campuses for people to complete the census online.

The Capitol Pressroom · July 13, 2020: New York’s census participation lags behind nation


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