Census Grantmaking: A Snapshot From the Front Lines in New York

Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Alessio Catelli/shutterstock

Bushwick, Brooklyn. Photo: Alessio Catelli/shutterstock

With the 2020 census less than two years away, funders across the country have been gearing up to ensure it goes well. The census is one of the most important datasets imaginable because it helps determine government funding allocations and political representation across the U.S. But there's a long history of undercounting people in marginalized communities. And, as 2020 approaches, there are strong fears that the Trump administration is working to sabotage an accurate count in order to bolster Republican political power. As we've reported, there's a lot of coordinated funder activity in this space going on right now. 

Related: A High-Stakes Headcount: Philanthropy and the 2020 Census

Quite a bit of this action is playing out locally. For example, the Philanthropy New York 2020 Census Funders Group has at least two dozen foundations associated with it. The New York Community Trust, New York Foundation, and Long Island Community Foundation are among the central organizers. 

One funder working for a fair and accurate census in 2020 is the Brooklyn Community Foundation (BCF). This racial justice-focused funder recently committed $100,000 to NYC and New York State-based efforts to get local communities ready for the census. The City University of New York’s Mapping Service revealed that over 80 percent of the population of Brooklyn is in a “hard to count” area when it comes to census data collection. Other parts of New York City—which has over 3 million foreign born residents—face similar challenges. People living in these communities are at risking of receiving less than their fair allocation of government funding and political representation. 

The BCF grant money is being split between the Center for Law and Social Justice, which will support the NYC Black Leadership Action Coalition to target black communities and communities of African descent, and the New York Immigration Coalition for a broader statewide effort that is also advocating for the removal of the citizenship question on the U.S. census. An additional $20,000 in BCF funds is going towards a New York State funder collaboration committed to the issue, and more BCF commitments are expected to be made in 2019 and 2020.

President and CEO Cecilia Clarke said in a press release

As Brooklyn’s community foundation, the 2020 Census is an opportunity to mobilize our communities and increase representation and resources for all of our residents—particularly communities of color and immigrant communities who have historically not had their voices heard. Kings County has been one of the hardest to count counties not only in New York State, but nationwide and we must act now to change that in the next two years. We fully believe Brooklyn can and should lead the way in this critical moment.

Related: Amid Civic Fears, a Democracy Funders Network Is Going Strong