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president's perspective

Why the U.S. Census matters

New York Teacher

We have a major challenge ahead of us this spring: Making sure every New Yorker is counted in this year’s U.S. Census.

The Census, which begins in March and lasts until the end of July, determines how federal funds are distributed nationwide. New York State is at risk of losing billions of dollars for public schools, transportation, health care and jobs if its population is undercounted. The last time the Census was conducted in 2010, only 61.6% of New York City residents participated, compared to the national average of 75%.

We can and must do better this year.

Every U.S. resident is supposed to be counted, and that includes noncitizens and everyone from infants to the elderly.  Please talk to your friends and acquaintances about the importance of filling out their forms.

In mid-March, most people will receive a letter with information to fill out the Census form online or by phone. (About a quarter of people, based on area demographics and internet connectivity, will receive a letter with a paper form.) Reminder postcards to nonrespondents will follow. In April, all those who didn’t respond will get a paper form in the mail. Census workers will make home visits from May to July to try to collect information from those who did not fill out their forms. July 31 is the final day to self-respond online, by phone or by mail.

One of our biggest challenges will be dispelling fear. You are not required to provide your Social Security number, bank information or citizenship status on the Census form. Personal information collected by the Census Bureau cannot be shared with any government agency or court. Divulging personal information collected by the Census Bureau is a federal crime with severe penalties.

We must stand up and be counted — and get our fair share of federal funding.  An incomplete count of New York residents disadvantages us in multiple ways. Census data is used by the federal government to distribute more than $675 billion every year through 132 federal programs. The Census determines funding for Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, subways and roads among other things. New York City receives more than $600 million in Title I funds for its high-needs schools, for instance, based on Census data.

And there’s more than money at stake. The abysmal rate of participation in the 2010 Census had political consequences: New York State lost two congressional seats. You only have to look at the present state of politics in Washington, D.C., to understand how devastating it would be if New York’s power were further diminished in the nation’s capital.

Please help us get the word out. Talk to members of your school community about the Census. Include the Census in your lesson plans this spring. Reach out to the UFT political action coordinator for your borough to join the union’s citywide Census campaign, which will include subway leafleting, phone banking, social media actions and neighborhood canvassing.

If you are interested in volunteering or have questions about the Census, please email Census@uft.org.

An incomplete count diminishes all of us — no matter what political party you belong to. We all have a stake in making sure everyone is counted.