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L’Italien Files Legislation To Prepare Massachusetts For 2020 Census, Combat Undercounting Of Marginalized Communities

May 20, 2018 05:40AM ● By Theresa Gilman

(Editor's Note: the following information was provided by the office of State Senator Barbara L’Italien.)

BOSTON, MA – State Senator Barbara L’Italien has introduced legislation to prepare Massachusetts for the 2020 census and prevent undercounting of marginalized communities under the Trump administration.
The census count has a significant and lasting impact.  The amount of federal dollars a community gets and how much representation it receives in government depends on the census count, so accuracy is critical to ensuring that every municipality gets its fair share of funding and services. If a large number of people in a particular city do not fill out the census, tax dollars for public school funding and infrastructure, for example, will be redistributed away from the area, leaving that community’s needs unmet.
An Act to ensure an accurate census count, nicknamed “2020 Vision,” establishes a Census Equality Task Force to investigate barriers to proper counting of all residents, assess the Commonwealth’s progress in preparing for upcoming censuses and create a report recommending regulatory and/or legislative action needed to ensure an accurate count of all Massachusetts residents. The Task Force will also create a statewide public awareness campaign about the importance of the census and ensuring a proper count to help traditionally undercounted populations understand the importance of responding to the Census. L’Italien filed an amendment to the FY19 Senate budget, being taken up next week, to begin the process of funding the public awareness campaign.

Population groups that are chronically undercounted include residents who do not speak English, veterans, individuals with disabilities, homeless people and residents of shelters, and immigrants both documented and undocumented who may be unwilling to complete the census due to fear of deportation of themselves, family, or friends.
“When we elected our president we decided who would run the 2020 census, which helps determine how much funding, services, and resources our communities get for the next decade,” said State Senator Barbara L’Italien, who sits on the legislature’s redistricting committee. “The census is important. We know the Trump administration won’t run a robust count, and it will fail to include many, many individuals who live on the margins of society. Whether systematic or just lazy, they are going to discriminate against veterans, immigrants, people with disabilities and other disenfranchised groups, and hurt cities and towns with large numbers of vulnerable residents who expect and deserve their fair share of federal resources. I represent Lawrence, which has one of the largest populations of non-English speakers and immigrants in the state, and for which every dollar of local aid is crucial. A poorly-run census is going to cost us, and I won’t let it stand. The time is now to start preparing. 2020 Vision provides a values-driven roadmap for how Massachusetts and other states can combat the Trump administration’s systematic undercounting and disempowering of vulnerable communities in the census, and secure the funding we need to support our residents.”
The task force described in the bill includes: the secretary of state (serving as the chair), the attorney general, relevant members of the legislature, representatives from relevant state departments such as Veterans Services and Public Safety, and representatives from organizations such as Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).

The 2010 census, which was considered to be mainly accurate, cost over $13 billion and relied on more than 550 field offices and 635,000 employees. This cost over twice as much as the census in 2000. The Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have argued that new technologies can replace the human labor in the census and do the work for half the cost of the 2010 census. They have created serious budget issues for the census bureau, including limiting it from spending more on the 2020 census than it did in 2010 - a requirement which does not account for inflation, technological advancements, or the realities of a growing population. These budget problems are likely to significantly impact the accuracy of the count.
In past censuses, paid enumerators (trained contracted individuals who collect census information door-to-door), partner programs run by competent partnership specialists who build trust within communities, and use of targeted advertising efforts have been the most important factors in ensuring full and accurate counts, supplementing traditional mail-in census information. Chief among these has been multiple visits to households by enumerators.
Census budget reduction will mean cuts to enumerator hours, preventing them from going back and visiting homes more than once if a household does not respond to the mail-in census or telephone contact. In 2010, enumerators had to re-canvass 47.2 million non-responsive homes nationwide, at a cost of $1.6 billion.
Communities that are historically considered harder to count accurately and thus require extra effort from enumerators and partnership specialists include people of color, immigrants, and low-income households. The Trump administration is expected to put little effort into ensuring these communities are counted in 2020. At a time when the federal government is cracking down on immigration, and immigrant communities are living in fear of deportation, there is less certainty that immigrants both documented and undocumented will fill out the census. The addition of a citizenship status question to the 2020 census is likely to dissuade them further.
Massachusetts is home to over 210,000 undocumented individuals, the equivalent of five state House districts and nearly two state Senate districts. Undercounting of these individuals makes certain that Massachusetts will lose out on the representation and funding we need for the next decade, much of which goes to supporting these very same vulnerable individuals. Severe undercounting could even mean gaining or losing a congressperson. This legislation will help ensure the state is doing whatever it can to get everyone counted.
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