AOC, Lin-Manuel Miranda urge New Yorkers to participate in the census

The congresswoman and the star of "Hamilton" have a new ad out aimed at preventing an undercount that could jeopardize the city's federal funding.
Image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda appear together in a Census 2020 advertisement.NYC Census 2020

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By Nicole Acevedo

Two of the nation's most prominent Latino New Yorkers, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, are starring in a new ad to urge New Yorkers to participate in the 2020 census to avoid another population undercount in the city.

The public service announcement starts with Ocasio-Cortez standing in front of a diverse crowd in a classroom-like space resembling some of the training sessions organized by NYC Census 2020, a $40 million initiative established by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council to boost census participation.

"The census is a count of everyone in the United States, no matter your immigration status. The census count is how our communities get billions of dollars for programs that we all rely on," she says as Miranda comes in late and sneaks into the back of the room.

Miranda then proceeds to join Ocasio-Cortez in explaining some of the questions that will be included in the census.

"The census asks how many people live in your home, do you rent or own, everyone's names, how you're all related, age, ethnicity and home phone number," says Miranda.

Census postcards are supposed to be mailed to households, not individuals, starting on March 12 with the appropriate information to fill out the form online, via phone or mail.

This is the first time people will be able to complete the census form, which is around 10 questions, online in 13 different languages.

The students featured in the ad are part of the CUNY Census Corps at the City University of New York. They have mobilized over 200 students who speak 44 languages to educate, engage and mobilize people in hard-to-count communities to complete the census.

The advertisement will run online and on local TV stations during "the critical self-response period of the census starting in mid-March," NYC Census 2020 said in a statement.

“Both Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Lin-Manuel are homegrown stars whose voices and activism have inspired action in their communities," Julie Menin, director of NYC Census 2020, said in a statement.

"With two weeks until New Yorkers begin completing the census, this PSA will help get the word out to communities across New York, especially those in historically undercounted communities,” she stated.

Concerns after 2010 undercount

In the 2010 census, the city’s response rate was less than 62 percent, compared with the national average of 76 percent. Another undercount can put the allocation of federal funds for public education, public housing, Medicaid, senior centers, Head Start programs and other publicly funded programs at risk, Menin told NBC News last year. New Yorkers could also lose as many as two seats in Congress.

The odds of that happening are high. According to a January 2019 Census report, the city’s response rate may be even lower — 58 percent — in 2020 because of a variety of factors, including a distrust of government as well as concerns about data privacy and confidentiality.

Such concerns heightened after the Trump administration announced plans to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, which the Census Bureau's own researchers found would reduce participation. The Supreme Court struck down the administration's efforts last summer.

In the ad, Ocasio-Cortez reminds New York City residents that the census is for everyone to fill out regardless of immigration status and that the information provided to the U.S. Census Bureau is protected by law and cannot be shared with anyone, including law enforcement agencies.

"The census only comes once in every 10 years, and 2020 is our chance to get it right," Ocasio-Cortez says at the end of the PSA.

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