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NY Census Push Kicks Into Overdrive

April 12, 2010

NEW YORK - Efforts to boost local census participation are in high gear all across New York today. On Long Island, Judy Pannulo, executive director of the Suffolk Community Council, is optimistic. She says the Census Bureau got the ball rolling early with a national ad campaign, and now groups like hers are conducting a grassroots information campaign in non-English-speaking immigrant neighborhoods. Those are areas that tend to have the lowest census-response rates.

"We're working with churches, working with bodegas, going to beauty parlors and barbershops where people congregate and telling them about the census and the importance of it. People can't hear it enough."

The stakes are high for this once-in-every-10-years count. The Bloomberg administration estimates the city loses $3,000 in federal aid for every person not counted in the census.

Long Beach Councilmember Len Torres says they are working hard to reduce the fear factor that exists in some non-English speaking communities, because there's evident they were under-counted last time.

"We feel that the number should be somewhere around 19 percent, and what's actually the official figure is 8 percent. Some of the adults are not legally in the country, and are afraid to be counted for that reason, thinking they will be separated from their children."

Pannulo says her group has gone into local high schools to educate students about the confidential nature of the census, so they can reassure their parents it is safe to participate.

"Kids have more of an impact on you sometimes - they come home and say 'It's really important to do this mom.' I think that was a good strategy, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the outcome."

Outreach efforts will continue beyond Thursday's mail-in deadline, Pannulo adds. There will be "be-counted" events like a free concert featuring Latino celebrities at Suffolk Community College on April 24.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY