With the 2020 census April 1 deadline quickly approaching, local nonprofit organizations have partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to reach certain populations in the region that may have been underrepresented in past surveys.

On the North Fork, several organizations — North Fork Spanish Apostolate, SEPA Mujer, Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Catholic Charities, the Riverhead Anti Bias Task Force, Community Action Southold Town among them — have joined forces to “get the word out” about the census and make sure “the hard-to-count communities on the North Fork are accounted for” in the once-a-decade questionnaire.

The federal government is required by the U.S. Constitution to count the country’s population in a census every 10 years.

The results of the census determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives, for the basis for redrawing the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts to account for population changes in apportioning representation.

Crucially, the census count also determines how federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities will be allocated for the next decade — more than $675 billion in federal funds annually for everything from school aid, money for highways and fire departments to health clinics, emergency housing and homeless shelters.

U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist Steven Collins explained that in order to reach specific communities that are hard to count, the U.S. Census Bureau reaches out to organizations like the ones on the North Fork so they can “let people know about the importance and the safety of the 2020 census” from “trusted voices.”

U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist Steven Collins met with community coalition members Wednesday in Riverhead. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

On the North Fork, the newly formed #NosotrosContamos Coalition is specifically targeting the Latino community, a population that they say is “often a marginalized community that gets lost in the census count,” said North Fork #NosotrosContamos Coalition coordinator Dena Spanos, who is also a Stony Brook University intern for the North Fork Spanish Apostolate.

One reason for the historic undercounting of Latinos, she said, is there is “a lot of fear” surrounding the census and not enough information.

“People are worried to put their names down on a government form without knowing what that could mean for their safety,” Spanos said.

One of the coalition’s main goals is to dispel that fear by letting people know that their privacy is protected by law, she said. It also seeks to make people aware that the 2020 Census does not have a citizenship question, something that had been proposed and aggressively pushed by the Trump administration, but was ultimately ruled out by the Supreme Court last June.

“Our mission is to uplift the whole community,” Spanos said. “By empowering Latinos in our area, we can make sure communities are accurately represented and receive the funding that can help communities to grow and be supported.”

With that mission in mind, the coalition met Wednesday afternoon at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate offices in Riverhead, to develop a plan for the next few months, as well as to get some feedback and information from Collins, who is providing the group materials to distribute and other resources.

In a brief presentation, Collins explained that for the first time ever, the census questionnaire can be filled out not only by mail or telephone, but also online from any device that has an internet connection. He also said that the U.S. Census Bureau has made sure that any questionnaire filled online is “completely secure.“

From now until mid-March, when the census questionnaires are expected to arrive in our area, the group will focus their efforts on recruiting and training English- and Spanish-speaking volunteers. It will also create promotional videos and other materials to distribute via social media. They will also host bilingual community workshops in Riverhead, Mattituck and Greenport from the end of February through March.

“Whoever is interested in helping us, we welcome you,” Spanos said. “We will be needing help, so please reach out to us,”

In March, volunteers will be assigned different tasks: from canvassing the area and dropping off materials at different venues throughout the North Fork, to informing people of the upcoming census and talking to local businesses, churches, and others. Help centers will also be established in Riverhead and Greenport, where community members will be able to go and get help filling out the census.

The coalition plans to culminate their efforts in April with two census day parties, one in Riverhead and another one in Greenport, where they said they will celebrate the community’s representation on the North Fork with music, food and other entertainment, as well as providing more census information and help.

Census Facts:

All people living in the U.S., the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories, are required by law to be counted in the decennial census.

Census “invitations” will be sent out March 12-20. The mailed invitations provide instructions for an online/phone response. Some people will receive paper questionnaires if the area they live in is one in which a low response rate is anticipated. The paper questionnaire will also provide online/phone instructions.

Reminders will be mailed March 16-24.

If a household fails to respond, a reminder postcard will be mailed March 26-April 3. If there is still no response, a reminder letter and a paper census questionnaire will be sent April 8-16. A final reminder postcard will be sent out April 20-27.

All households that do not respond will be visited in person.

People experiencing homelessness will be counted March 30-April 1. This will be done at shelters, soup kitchens, mobile food vans, on the streets, and outdoor locations.

Beginning in April, census-takers will visit college campuses, people living in retirement homes, and others in group housing situations.

Pursuant to Title 13 of the U.S. Code: “Your data are confidential. Federal law protects your census responses. Your answers can only be used to produce statistics. By law we cannot share you information with immigration enforcement agencies, law enforcement agencies, or allow it to be used to determine your eligibility for government benefits.”

Census participants do not need to provide a name or a social security number.

The information is not given to landlords.

See: More information about the 2020 Census.

See: sample of a 2020 Census questionnaire.

-With Julia-Anna Searson

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Maria Piedrabuena
María, a multimedia reporter, graduated from Stony Brook University with degrees in journalism and women and gender studies. She has worked for several news outlets including News12 and Fortune Magazine. A native of Spain, she loves to read, write and travel. She lives in Manorville. Email Maria