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What impact will the Census citizenship question have in WNY?


Buffalo is one of many cities across the country with leaders worried about the impact of the new citizenship question on the upcoming Census in 2020.

The Census is adding a question that hasn’t been asked of all U.S. households since 1950. Is this person a citizen of the United States?

Democrats across the country are worried it could lead to an undercount of non-citizen residents in areas that typically vote blue. International Institute of Buffalo Executive Director Eva Hassett said in addition to this question, the political climate regarding immigration will deter people.

“We’ve seen refugees who have legal status, who are not criminals, there’s no reason for them to be removed from the United States, fleeing to Canada over the northern border,” said Hassett. “You’ve seen this in the media. When people who have no reason to flee are fleeing, then you know you have created an atmosphere where people are fearful and anxious.”

The Census is used as a basis to allocate federal revenue. The Justice Department sent a request in December to the Commerce Department for the question to be added. That's close to nine months after the Census Bureau released a final report to Congress of question topics for the 2020 Census.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the less people that response that should respond, the more it hurts the greater community.

“There’s a lot of people who live in the west side of Buffalo who are not US citizens but they’re here legally in our county. If they fear that if they answer the Census that they are going to be sent back to their country, they are not going to answer the Census,” he said.

Even if federal funding is lost, programs that provide key services will still be funded one way or another.

“Assistance associated with Meals on Wheels and senior programs is based on senior age population,” said Poloncarz. “So if we have 100 people who are legal immigrants from another country and they’re of senior population… well we want them included because we are providing them services often. But if they don’t answer, that hurts the amount of reimbursement and assistance that Erie County gets.”

Poloncarz said if it deters a large enough amount of people from filling out their Census, the area could lose a Congressional representative. Democrats in Washington are calling for a Senate hearing over the citizenship question citing a lack of permanent leadership at the Census bureau as a potential problem.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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