By Bill Sarno, CTLatinoNews.com
“We will provide services, no matter,” said Bridgeport City Clerk Lydia Martinez about Connecticut’s largest city’s commitment to helping its many high-need residents.
However, Martinez and government and community leaders in the state’s other major cities with large immigrant and minority populations are anxious that their ability to provide a safety net for their many low-income residents could suffer a devastating setback if there is a significant undercount in the 2020 Census.
This constitutionally required decennial headcount will determine the distribution annually of $675 billion in federal funds to states and towns and the allocation of congressional and state legislature seats.
Many communities, especially those with large low-income populations of Latino immigrants and other minorities, rely on these federal formula grants for schools, hospitals, roads, housing and nutrition programs for the elderly and school children, and other local and state programs.
Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz has warned that each resident not counted equates to $2,200 less in federal funds coming into Connecticut.
“We can’t lose any federal support, we don’t have enough now,” said Maria Zambrano Viggiano, a member of the Bridgeport City Council and co-chair with Martinez of the Bridgeport Census Complete Count Task Force. She noted that the city’s population and school enrollment is growing as more people locate in Bridgeport.
The Census Bureau has identified several tracts in the state’s largest cities, including Hispanic neighborhoods in East Bridgeport, as among the worst in the nation for Census participation. This designation is based on a low mail response in 2010, under 60 percent, and as few as 20-30 percent of residences with no or adequate Internet connections.
Statewide, the number of undocumented residents is seen as between 108,000 and more than 120,000 people depending on the source. Mexicans and Guatemalans, two of the groups that the Trump administration has targeted for blocking at the southern border, are the two biggest undocumented groups in Connecticut, combining for 30 percent of the total, according to figures derived from the ACS, 2012-2016.
The next largest groups are from Ecuador, Brazil, and Jamaica. Undocumented immigrants from Europe, Canada and Oceania represent 12 percent of the total.
As to how many undocumented live in Bridgeport, estimates such as the one offered by Maritza Bond, director of health and social services – 29,500, plus or minus three percent – carry a warning label that these are rough projections and that undocumented is often conflated with “immigrants.”
Even data from the Census’s mid-decade American Community data is not totally reliable, Bond said. “There is still an open debate about its accuracy due to the underutilization of operational data like visa overstays and deportations,” the health official said.
Bridgeport is part of a metropolitan area with Stamford and Norwalk that is ranked thirteenth nationally in a list of cities or metro areas with “the most illegal immigrants” produced by the Insider Monkey website. This status was derived on information from Pew Research which showed that 65,000 people are undocumented in this metro region and that this comprises 6.7 percent of the total population.
The state’s second largest city, New Haven, also has been building a broad-based team and gathering resources to address the accurate count challenge.
New Haven is a “significant recipient of federal formula grants,” explained Michael Piscitelli, the city’s acting economic development administrator. This money, he said, is important for community affordable housing programs and for emergency shelter grants.
The 20-town New Haven region has 14,430 undocumented residents according to DataHaven, a 25-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to improving life in New Haven and the state by “collecting, sharing and interpreting public data for effective decision making.”
The main impediment to fair and valid data collection in Bridgeport, New Haven, and other cities is that they contain large populations of undocumented immigrants, particularly from Latin America, whose distrust of the federal government heightened by President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and hostile comments.
While Latinos appear to be the president’s primary target they are not alone in posing a hurdle for advocates of an accurate Census next year, Viggiano said. “African-American males ages 18-25, are among the hardest to count.”
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Another challenge is that for the first time, census data will be collected primarily online, a format that will make it harder for people without reliable internet access — most of whom live in areas that are already historically undercounted.
“There is a digital divide,” Viggiano said, noting that half the residents don’t have a reliable WiFi service and use cell phones for Internet access.
Another major problem is that the number of immigrants who might not fill out Census forms next spring could skyrocket if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the Trump administration’s plan to include a citizenship question in the Census.
The federal government estimates that 5.5 million people will not be counted with this question on the questionnaire.
Democratic leaders have charged that the real reason for placing a citizenship question in the 2020 Census is an attempt by Trump and other Republicans to strip power from blacks and Latinos by gerrymandering congressional districts, say Democratic leaders.
“Highly Democratic” cities such as Bridgeport and New Haven are especially in the cross-hairs of a “fear-mongering” White House that would like to reduce federal financial support and their political power, Viggiano said.
To address the need to get everyone counted in 2020, the state has set up a task force co-chaired by Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and state Rep. Christopher Rosario.
The state committee is working with accurate count teams that Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, and several other cities have set up this year. The local task forces are enlisting government, non-profit and community resources.
“This is an important time for the state,” Piscitelli said, who noted that accurate Census data not only is crucial for social programs but also is used “day to day” by economic development professionals and city planners.
Then there are the political consequences of a low Census count. Connecticut could lose another congressional district and an electoral vote in the presidential election, while a city like Bridgeport could see its delegation to the state legislature shrink.
Viggiano observed that suburban towns should not look at the cities’ Census challenges as not their concern. A low count in the urban areas would reduce the total pie of federal funds that will be allocated to Connecticut, she said.
Funding for local Census outreach is another issue. The Republican-controlled federal government appears unlikely to invest in resources for outreach to those who most likely to get missed and it’s unclear what support will come from the state.
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The city of New Haven is not waiting, however, for outside support the effort to produce a complete count. The city’s Board of Alders has provided a $50.000 grant which the local task force will need to invest in staff, banners and information packages, Piscitelli said.
Philanthropic institutions such as the Fairfield Community Foundation and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving also are supporting the accurate count initiatives.
Yvette Bello, the Hartford Foundation’s senior community investment officer, said, “In light of our race, place, and income barrier framework, the Foundation has identified Civic Engagement as a necessary and critical part of our work. Under our Civic Engagement Umbrella, we have supported and plan to continue providing nonprofits the opportunities to request funding for both Get Out the Vote (GOTV) funding and/or Get out the Count (GOTC).
In addition, Bello said, “we are also at the table with other funders who are interested in supporting GOTV and Census efforts including the Hispanic Federation, Universal Healthcare Foundation, Fairfield Community Foundation, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, the Perrin Family Foundation, and the CT Council for Philanthropy.
“The goal at this table is to work efficiently, share information, goals, and reporting,” she said.
The Supreme Court, which Trump has packed with conservatives, is expected to rule any day now on the inclusion of the politically charged citizenship question in the 2020 Census.
Either way, Bridgeport leaders know they are looking at a big number of people who may be difficult to tally but see little choice but to use every resource they can muster to build an accurate count.
“We have to go all out,” Viggiano said, “to benefit our high-need population.”
Martinez expressed a similar determination, “We have a lot of undocumented immigrants. We need to count them (because) we service them.”
Publisher/Executive Editor’s note: CTLN objects to the inaccurate and derogatory term “illegal immigrant”, “illegals”, “illegal aliens” in describing people in the United States without documentation. CTLN uses undocumented immigrants as instructed by the Associated Press Stylebook.
CTLN is committed to providing in-depth news and information on the 2020 U.S. Census in order to educate and empower all Connecticut communities.