John Jay Host Census 101: Everything You Need to Know to be Counted

John Jay Host Census 101: Everything You Need to Know to be Counted

John Jay Host Census 101: Everything You Need to Know to be Counted

The 2020 Census count has officially started and it’s imperative that everyone be counted. To underscore the importance of participating in the 2020 Census, John Jay College hosted Census 101: Everything You Need to Know to be Counted on February 27. “Achieving a fair, accurate, and complete count in the upcoming Census is all about justice,” said Mindy Bockstein, Executive Director for John Jay’s Office of External Affairs. “The Census is a racial justice issue; an economic issue; a criminal justice issue; a gender justice issue; and an environmental justice issue. The Census impacts every part of our life—it affects education, health care, transportation, and public safety.”

“Achieving a fair, accurate, and complete count in the upcoming Census is all about justice.” —Mindy Bockstein 

Serving as moderator for the evening’s discussion was Melva M. Miller, a John Jay alumna and Executive Vice President of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), where she’s leading the organization’s Census 2020 initiative for an accurate count. “It’s a really exciting time because the Census touches our lives every day, in multiple ways, from the moment we leave the house, to the transportation we take, to the institutions we arrive at, the Census affects it all,” she said. “This in-depth conversation with our panel, will explore what the Census is and what the ramifications are if there’s an undercount, especially for New York City and those who go to institutions like John Jay. The stakes are extremely high.”

Miller then introduced the panel: Aliya Bhatia, Census Manager, ABNY; Ian Hull, Deputy Regional Director, New York Regional Census Center, U.S. Census Bureau; Steven Romalewski, Director of CUNY Mapping Service, Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center, CUNY; Aries Dela Cruz, Manhattan Borough Lead, New York City Census 2020; and Julio C. Rivera, Northeast Census Campaign Manager, NALEO Education Fund. They each spoke about their agencies’ role in the Census, how they’re making sure every New Yorker is counted, and answered questions from attendees. Below are some of the responses.

“The Census touches our lives every day, in multiple ways, from the moment we leave the house, to the transportation we take, to the institutions we arrive at, the Census affects it all.” —Melva M. Miller 

What is the Census?
Hull: The Census is a count that happens every 10 years. The goal of the Census is to count everyone once and in the communities that they live in. The Census is required, it’s in the Constitution, and has been a cornerstone of our democracy since 1790. It funds critical programs such as medicaid, SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), school lunch programs, health care programs and highway funding.

Is the Census safe to fill out?
Hull: The Census is completely safe to fill out. Title 13 of the United States Code authorizes and states the protections of the Census. By law, we cannot release any information that can be used to identify an individual or an individual housing unit. That means we cannot give or release that information to any federal government agencies, state government agencies, or city government agencies. That includes all forms of law enforcement. The only information we release is statistical information that helps to describe our communities and our neighborhoods.

How do I fill out the Census?
Hull: There’s four ways to respond to the Census questions. Beginning March 12, you’ll be able to fill out the Census form online—you can respond using your laptop computer, a tablet, or your smartphone. You’ll also be able to respond by filling out the form mailed to you and mailing it back to the U.S. Census bureau. It can be filled out via phone call or an in-person interview.

To learn more, visit:

Will I get invited to fill out the Census?
Romalewski: Every household in your city will get a mailing. Some cities will get an invitation to go online and fill out the questionnaire. Other places will get the actual questionnaire mailed to their household. When you get that information, it’s best to respond either by going online, calling the number, or sending in the questionnaire. This self-response is the least intrusive and most reliable way to get accurate Census data. If you don’t respond in any of the three ways, you’ll get a non-response follow-up—that’s when someone knocks on your door to ask you the questions in person. The challenge with that is that people will go uncounted because they won’t open the door, or they’ll give inaccurate numbers.

What kind of questions will I be asked?
Hull: The Census will ask for your name, age, date of birth, race origin, and hispanic origin; as well as your relationship, gender, and housing status. We will never ask for your social security number, bank account information, or what political party you’re affiliated with.

Rivera: There will also be no citizenship question on the Census. We want to make this clear, our communities need to know that the information on the Census will not be used against them.

What if I don’t speak English?
Dela Cruz: The City of New York has invested in community-based organizations to help address the 200 different languages spoken in the city; the money goes to developing specific grassroots outreach and person-to-person outreach that is tailored to local immigrant populations. Also, there will be extra support in the 110 branches that are in historically under-counted and underrepresented neighborhoods. The 110 branches will be provided with materials in multiple languages and will provide language support to non-English speakers.

Hull: There will also be direct language support online and over the phone. So you’ll be able to call in a dedicated phone line and respond in one of the 12 non-English languages. You’ll also be able to go to a specific website and respond online in those languages.

I would like to fill out the form online, but I don’t have access to the internet. What can I do?
Dela Cruz: The libraries will play an important role in this. The city has invested $1.4 million in a partnership with the public libraries in New York City. There’s over 240 libraries in New York City, their systems will be up and running to allow for the Census to be filled out on the library computers. And, staff will be trained to talk about the Census and offer support to the local community.

Who in my community can I go to if I’m still not sure about filling out the Census?
Bhatia: There are a number of community-based organizations on the ground that are doing phenomenal Census work within communities. They’re working to educate their community members and encourage them to fill out the Census. We’re also working with trusted voices in the community—such as religious leaders, teachers, doctors, and local small business owners, such as the deli owner—they’re going to be able to support their community, put them at ease, and answer any questions they may have.

Rivera: This is where our trusted community leaders and Census champions come in. Our principals, teachers, nurses, doctors, and even our peers—for instance, we have the CUNY Census Corps. We have to seek out these individuals, educate them on the Census, and give them the tools they need so they can raise awareness and participation in the Census.

What happens if there’s an undercount?
Bhatia: New Yorkers stand to lose a lot if there’s an undercount, namely funding for programs that are vital for our communities. So we’re talking about programs like food stamps, WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and SNAP for underserved communities; funding for our public schools, transportation systems, and institutions like John Jay; funding for our health care system. And, we’ll lose representation in Washington—since New York could potentially lose up to two congressional seats. That means you would have one to two less votes in Congress. If you have less representation in Washington, you have less of a say in what’s happening in this country and for your future. So fill out the Census, help your neighbors fill out the Census, and help us get an accurate count.