Gov. Cuomo vetoes bill to collect demographic data on Asian American groups

Advocates said the bill would have helped reveal disparities among Asian American communities and address challenges faced by underserved groups.
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers remarks during an opening ceremony of Delta's new terminal at LaGuardia Airport on Oct. 29, 2019, in New York.Stephanie Keith / Getty Images file

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By Kimmy Yam

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York recently vetoed a bill that would have required state agencies to collect demographic data for a wide number of Asian American ethnicities. Advocates criticized the move, saying the legislation would have helped reveal disparities among Asian American communities and address challenges faced by underserved groups.

Assembly Bill 677 required state agencies, boards and commissions to disaggregate data and collect information on specific Asian, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian ethnicities, such as Vietnamese and Nepalese. Advocates argue that without the bill, the diversity among groups will not be acknowledged and the challenges faced by underserved communities will not be properly acknowledged.

“Without the accurate measure of data and commitment from the state that the bill would bring, our community will continue to be marginalized and remain invisible,” Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, D-New York, who sponsored the bill, told NBC News.

Currently, the majority of state agencies group Asian Americans as a monolith, with averages obscuring the vastly different experiences between groups. As Pew Research points out, Asian Americans currently have the largest wealth gap compared to any other group in the United States.

While the “model minority myth” suggests that the community is financially well off, research shows that those from the Cambodian and Laotian communities, among others, are more economically vulnerable compared to those from the Chinese or Indian communities, a 2018 report on Asian American wealth disparity points out. Disaggregated data on Asian American and Pacific Islander median household income shows while Bangladeshi Americans make a median of $46,950, Indian Americans make $95,000.

In his rationale, Cuomo described the intent behind the bill as “laudable,” however cited budgetary and implementation concerns for the veto. The governor also said that while he didn’t approve the bill, he will be calling on the Executive Committee for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity to better understand the challenges the group faces.

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”This bill would create new financial obligations and operational intricacies not accounted for within the state’s financial plan, and with insufficient time for implementation,” he wrote. “Such funding decisions should be addressed within the context of the budget.”

However, advocates point out that cost analyses on data disaggregation have been run in other states and localities and that there are “precedents for this legislation that NY State can pull from and doesn't need to reinvent the wheel or start at the drawing board,” Anita Gundanna, co-executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Asian American Children + Families, which leads the campaign on the legislation, told NBC News. Furthermore, the governor’s solution doesn’t include a concrete plan or timeline to collect more accurate data on the Asian American communities.

“There appears to be no accountability measures here,” Gundanna said.

Wayne Ho, president of the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), noted that in some cases, the state has rendered the entire group of Asian Americans completely invisible. A portion of census funding is allocated based on a formula that builds on the Rockefeller Institute of Government's At-Risk Community Index. The index takes into account 10 categories of people who have been undercounted in the past or are likely to be undercounted. Black and Hispanic communities are among the groups. Asian Americans, who are the racial group least likely to fill out the census form, are not included at all.

The bill would have not only prevented exclusion, but more precise data would also uncover hidden challenges the AAPI communities face and aid legislators in figuring out how and where to allocate resources, Niou said. Existing services including poverty relief, health outcome improvement programs, and language access within the programs could be made more effective.

“We'd know where certain subgroups are most common in areas, understand how to do outreach better in those areas, and provide better outcomes by doing more research or utilizing previous research to apply into programming,” she explained. “But, we won't know until we measure with standardized data sets. If the data doesn't show the need, it's hard to show the need for funding.”

Cuomo also wrote that he was concerned the bill’s requirement to collect data on “an individual’s place of birth and national origin will have unintended consequences” given the “overly aggressive” approach the Trump administration has taken to immigration enforcement. In Trump’s first fiscal year in office, deportations in New York City increased by 150 percent, from the final full fiscal year of the Obama administration, according to a report from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office. The removal of those with no criminal records rose by more than 265 percent in the same period.

But the unintended consequences of inaccurate data to meet the needs of AAPI and immigrant communities pose a greater threat, Carlyn Cowen, CPC’s chief policy and public affairs officer said.

“If the state is concerned about ICE aggressions, then increasing funding for the Liberty Defense Program and other immigrant services, rather than cutting these services, and ensuring that ICE stays out of our courts, schools and public buildings, would be more effective measures than blocking the collection of key community data,” she said.

Niou said going forward, she’ll be working with advocacy groups to address concerns and intends to reintroduce the bill.