Virtual Discussion Focuses on Challenges Surrounding 2020 Census

City Councilor Ed Flynn hosted a virtual discussion Friday focusing on the challenges of tallying accurate counts for the 2020 Census, especially in immigrant communities, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councilor Flynn underscored the necessity of getting an accurate Census count to assure that communities not only receive adequate representation in Congress, but are also allocated sufficient federal funding for schools and benefits like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which provides needy families with a supplemental food budget.

But Councilor Flynn said outreach has become increasingly more difficult since the pandemic struck because going door to door to solicit responses is no longer an option while many immigrants and seniors lack Internet access so they can’t complete the Census online.

Sebastian Zapata, the city’s Census liaison, said around 30 percent of the city’s population is foreign born, and on average, one parent of every Boston Public Schools students is foreign-born.

“The Census is a safe, secure and crucial way to getting us resources we need for next 10 years,” he said. “The Census is about everyone regardless of their status. It’s just a snapshot of who lives in our communities over the past 10 years.”

Anne Williams, U.S. Census partnership specialist, said the Census, which is now available in 13 languages, can be completed by mail, over the phone or online at

“We want people to know the Census is underway, and it’s happening now,” Williams said. “Half of the households in America have responded, but there’s still plenty of time.”

While the Census deadline was originally set for July 31, Williams said an extension until Oct. 31 has been requested.

Williams also said that Census responses wouldn’t be shared with other government agencies or law enforcement, and that cyber-security measures have been taken to better protect respondents’ personal information.

City Councilor Andrea Campbell, whose district includes Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, said, “These communities are some of the hardest to count so it’s important we’re raising this issue.”

Councilor Campbell added, “My district has extremely large immigrant populations. It’s not just important that we be counted for resources… but it’s an opportunity for these communities to share their stories.”

State Rep. Jon Santiago, who also works in the Boston Medical Center ER serving largely minority communities, said the Census is “now more important than ever in the age of COVID-19.”

Rep. Santiago pointed to the disproportionately high rates of coronavrus infections in Chelsea – a community of 40,000 that spans only two square miles.

“We need to get places like Chelsea the resources they need,” he said. “Elected officials have to do the best we can to make sure everyone is counted.”

Karen Chen, executive director of the nonprofit Chinese Progressive Association, said, “People more now than ever need to understand the importance of [Census] data.”

This data, she said, determines the number of hospital beds and the need for child care in communities.

“If you’re not on lease, that’s okay, be sure to include everyone in household,” Chen said, adding that respondents who need help completing the Census can call the Chinese Progressive Association at 617-433-8522 for assistance.

Meanwhile, Chen said the COVID-19 pandemic has “exposed racial and social inequity.”

“Everyone counts and we should count everyone so we can use the data to move towards equity,” she said.

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