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The Census Bureau is trying to improve its poor performance in New York City by reaching out to community groups to help ferret out hard-to-reach residents for the Big Count in 2000. But federal census officials at a Friday City Council hearing said the locals won’t be getting any money from the bureau for their outreach efforts.

The bureau is planning to use community groups to provide crucial outreach to poor, urban immigrant communities, where its had the most trouble getting accurate numbers in the past. “We [will] have community specialists to fan out and access community-based organizations,” said Assistant Regional Census Manager Wilfredo Sauri. He said the bureau’s plan is to hire special census reps from within immigrant communities–“indigenous hiring”–and send them out to work with local nonprofits.

But, although the bureau is funding a $100 million nationwide advertising campaign, agency spokesperson Elizabeth McCoy said that for local partners, “resources would have to come from within the community.”

Poor people are hard to count, as are children and people in illegally subdivided or overcrowded housing. And immigrants, who may be scared of deportation and of government officials with forms, are among the most difficult to find.

The bureau estimates it missed 1.6 percent of the country’s population in its 1990 census. But in New York City, the estimated undercount was 3.2 percent. In the Bronx, it was nearly 5 percent.

An accurate count is essential for adequate congressional representation and for the allocation of government money to local groups. An estimated $180 billion nationwide is distributed with census population numbers, including Head Start, Community Development Block Grants, food stamps, WIC, and empowerment zone funds. Those figures also determine New York State’s share of direct federal funding, some $42 million in 1997.

The Census Bureau wants to use a computerized sampling technique in the next national population count to counter underreporting, but so far, Congress and the courts have stopped the plans. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case on November 30, but the sampling fight probably won’t be over until next spring.

Glenn Magpantay of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund said that his group, who has filed briefs with the Supreme Court in support of sampling, appreciates the bureau’s efforts to reach immigrant communities. “But the problem is if community based organizations give resources and staff,” he said. “We can’t be a front for government agencies.”

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