- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

With the 2010 census looming, major U.S. cities whose residents are at high risk of being missed are struggling with a shortage of money and manpower to prepare for an accurate count.

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, released Monday, found several cities with substantially fewer resources than they had in 2000. Municipal officials also expressed concern about a possible poor turnout next year, citing difficulties in finding displaced residents because of home foreclosures and skittish immigrants wary of filling out government forms.

The Washington Times reported Monday that some Hispanic activists are even urging Hispanics to boycott the census to protest what they say is a lack of action by the Obama administration on overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.

Earlier this month, the Commerce Department ruled out seeking a temporary halt to large-scale immigrant raids as a way to boost participation in hard-to-count communities.

“Nobody is expecting a good census in 2010,” said Joseph Salvo, New York City’s population division chief. “I’m not optimistic. Since the last census we had 9/11, privacy issues, trust of government issues. And there’s been no public declaration that we’re going to suspend immigration raids, like in 2000.”

Pew’s review of preparation efforts in 11 major cities, which had undercounts of residents in 2000 of up to 1.5 percent, found only five cities had committed public funds to census outreach - Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Phoenix and Baltimore. Even when cities had allotted funds, most were at sharply lower levels compared with 2000, because of the recession that has made state budgets tight.

Los Angeles faces difficulties in finding residents who are now living in foreclosed houses and recreational vehicles, or “doubling up” with friends and relatives in single-family homes. Yet the city’s $770,738 budget for outreach work is about half the amount it had in 2000.

Chicago, which missed an estimated 32,000 residents in 2000, spent nearly $1.3 million in city funds a decade ago. This year, by contrast, it has allocated no money.

Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city, has been particularly slow in getting preparations under way, although officials insist they can catch up. A decade ago, the city set aside $200,000 for the census effort, but it has no such funds this time.

Other cities with no public funds for census outreach include Atlanta, Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

To boost participation, the U.S. Census Bureau is mounting a $300 million national media campaign and working with more than 80,000 groups to help get the word out that filling out the 10-question census form is safe and easy. But Census Director Robert Groves has acknowledged that the risk of error and missteps in counting remains high.

“Whether cities can beat the census participation or mail-response rate from 2000 is going to be tough,” said Thomas Ginsberg, project manager of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative and author of the report. “Cities will have to rely on unpaid organizing and grass-roots networks that are already out there.”

The stakes are high because the population figures are used to apportion House seats, redraw congressional districts and distribute more than $400 billion in government funds for schools, roads, hospitals and other vital programs.

But there are also broader financial consequences if there is a poor turnout, because the U.S. Census Bureau has committed to spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to locate residents with repeated visits if they fail to mail in their paper form immediately.

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