With over 38,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, New York City has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. The highly contagious coronavirus, which causes fever, cough, and respiratory issues, has caused public schools, restaurants, and offices to temporarily close, including CIANA.
To prevent the spread of the virus, CIANA has temporarily suspended its ESL and Civics classes and after-school programs until the number of cases drops. However, the 2020 Census- which CIANA has been deeply involved with since the beginning of the year- is still going on, and we’re still actively working to get a complete count.
How Has COVID-19 Already Impacted Census Work?
The New York City government, the federal government, and cities around the U.S. have all encouraged “social distancing”- avoiding large crowds and communal gatherings- to prevent the coronavirus from spreading any further, as well as to prevent healthcare facilities from being overburdened with an excessive number of COVID-19 cases.
Organizations and offices big and small, from CBOs like CIANA to the U.S. Census Bureau, have had to suspend their in-person Census work to follow social distancing guidelines. However, CIANA’s dedicated Census Outreach team is reaching our clients by phone and by text to encourage them to fill out the Census.
Because the Census can be completed by mail, over the phone, or online, there is no in-person component that might otherwise be inhibited by social distancing.
What Obstacles has COVID-19 Created to Getting a Complete Count?
All U.S. residents can respond to the Census on their own until May 28 (formerly May 15), at which point Census enumerators will begin visiting the homes of individuals and families who have not responded. However, fear of contracting COVID-19 has caused fewer people to apply to be enumerators, and has dissuaded those who have already accepted the position.
In accordance with social distancing, enumerators will stand several feet away from the residents they visit, will carry hand sanitizer, and will minimize all physical contact. But despite these precautions, the Census Bureau is having a hard time recruiting new enumerators due to restrictions against spending time outside the home, as well as fear of contracting the virus.
Fewer enumerators could mean that fewer residences will have someone check in on them to remind them to fill out the Census, which would in turn lead to yet another undercount, and potentially even more severe than in previous years.
This is why CIANA is engaging its client populations now, during the self-response period. Letting them know about the Census while they can still do it on their own will prevent a knock on their door in the spring, and will overall foster a greater sense of independence when completing their civic duty.
On March 23, CIANA was part of the citywide "Text Out the Count" campaign, informing NYC residents by text that the Census is here and encouraging them to complete it. CIANA focused primarily on its home neighborhood Astoria, which holds a large immigrant population.
How Does the Census Help with Public Health Overall?
The Census allows the government to determine how much of the $675 billion federal budget should be allotted to hospitals and health organizations, to which parts of the country, and to which demographics.
A 2019 report from the Children’s Hospitals Association shows that an undercount will rob children and families of much-needed funding for Medicaid. This will severely impact new Americans, including CIANA’s clients, many of whom are from low-income families. Census data also helps fund Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), two federal programs taken advantage of by millions of Americans, including immigrants.
Lack of funding prevents hospitals from acquiring more ICU beds, ventilators, and other medical equipment, which is in part why COVID-19 has killed so many Americans. Not practicing social distancing has caused hospitals to reach their capacity, but the 2020 Census could enable them to increase their capacity.
Getting a full count in the Census will ensure that even when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, health facilities will have the resources they need to treat older people, people with chronic conditions, people with disabilities, veterans, immigrants, and all other segments of the community.
How Does All This Impact the Immigrant Community?
Filling out the Census and seeking medical care are two very separate things, but many immigrants are wary of doing either for similar reasons. Both require giving one’s name and to someone they don’t already know. Some might worry that their language abilities, national origin, or citizenship status could be exposed.
Fortunately, the 2020 Census will not ask about citizenship status, despite the Trump administration’s attempt to ask a citizenship question. Similarly, doctors and healthcare providers are not allowed to ask about citizenship status, nor are they required to give it to immigration enforcement agencies like CBP or ICE.
COVID-19 has caused fear for many immigrants not just due to its health consequences, but because of the new Public Charge rule, which went into effect on February 24. They are concerned that their green card applications could be denied if they receive coronavirus testing or treatment using public benefits. As a result, USCIS decided to suspend Public Charge for coronavirus-related cases.
COVID-19 is not an excuse to be racist or xenophobic against immigrants or people of color, particularly Asian Americans. The best way to make it out of this crisis is to unite against fighting it, instead of blaming others and creating division.
Immigrants, including low-income immigrants and their families, are entitled to the same healthcare as are all other Americans. As residents of the U.S., regardless of where they came from or how they got here, they are also entitled to being counted in the Census, so that the government can allot the proper funding for them and their communities.