Civil rights leaders weigh-in on new census citizenship question

KHALIL ABDULLAH | 8/17/2018, 1:36 p.m.
Before the public comment period on the 2020 census closed Tuesday, civil rights organizations continued to amplify the clarion call ...
U.S. Census Bureau

Trice Edney Communications

Before the public comment period on the 2020 census closed Tuesday, civil rights organizations continued to amplify the clarion call to Americans to denounce the inclusion of a “citizenship question” on the final census form – a question as to whether respondents are U.S. citizens.

Jeri Green, senior advisor for the 2020 census for the National Urban League, said the citizenship question was “untested, unjust and unconstitutional,” and should be opposed by all Americans.

Conducted every 10 years, the constitutionally mandated census is “the nation’s largest and complex peacetime activity,” explained Terri Ann Lowenthal, former Staff Director of the House Census and Population Subcommittee, and currently Policy Advisor, Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Generating feedback on the citizenship question, though time-sensitive, was only one concern of each of the panelists on a LCEF media conference call organized with the assistance of Ethnic Media Services.

For example, Green, a former Census Bureau employee, contends that the Census Bureau’s typical “what’s in it for you?” messaging to the Black community must change. “A different narrative is needed to motivate the Black population to participate in the 2020 Census.”

Green said the NUL, in concert with other organizations, is “developing strategies to ensure that African Americans understand that political power and representation are at stake, and that we cannot afford to lose an inch of political ground by ignoring the Census.”

She reminded attendant media that “Black America” comprises immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, as well as those African Americans who, with predictable regularity, are still undercounted and have been so since the first 1790 census.

Panelists repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Census Bureau getting the count right because mistakes have monetary and social repercussions lasting through the decade and beyond. The estimated annual $600 to $675 billion drawdown of federal funds, based on and allocated to states, counties and cities using census data, would expand to over $6 trillion until next decennial count in 2030. More difficult to quantify and qualify over that span is the impact of the loss of a family’s home, food insecurity, or lack of access to medical care.

Yes, Green said, African Americans – as do many Americans across ethnic lines – benefit from federally programs based on Census data, among them Medicaid, the medical assistance program; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Health Center Programs for community, migrant, homeless, public housing; and Low Income Home Energy Assistance.

“But for many African Americans residing in urban communities, state and local funding has become a one-way ticket out of their communities, out of affordable housing, and out of health care coverage – bye-bye Obama Care,” she argued.

With the near universal specter of urban gentrification across America in mind, Green said, “The neighborhood school funded by state and local funding 10 years ago, has been razed and a new multimillion-dollar condominium complex sits in its place today. Simply put, many African Americans are not better off than they were 10 years ago.

“But, wherever you might live – even if displaced, federal funding allocations, based on Census data, still support services vital to our communities, and well-being.”