The director of the state’s largest organization representing foreign-born residents will play a key role as the state prepares for the 2020 Census and looks to ensure its share of billions of dollars in federal aid.
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, will chair the 2020 Complete Count Committee, Secretary of State William Galvin, the state’s official liaison to the US Census, announced after the inaugural meeting of that panel.
“I think her expertise and her knowledge of the different communities of our state is going to be enormously helpful,” Galvin said. Millona is also cochair of the National Partnership for New Americans, which represents the nation’s 37 largest regional immigrant and refugee rights organizations in 31 states.
The statewide committee features government and community leaders who will provide education about the decennial census. Population counts gathered in each state will lead to recalculations of federal funding to the states, redistricting and changes in political representation — Massachusetts lost a US House seat after the 2010 Census, for instance, a change that coincided with the decisions of former congressmen John Olver and Barney Frank not to seek reelection.
The population in Massachusetts has been growing, largely due to international migration, and Galvin and others in Massachusetts are working to ensure that all people in the state are counted, and mindful that the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration might affect how people respond.
“We are living in a very different time in terms of the climate,” Galvin said during a briefing in February.
At that briefing, Galvin said he wanted to ensure that people living in public housing are counted, noting the ability exists currently to take information from other “secondary sources,” such as administrators of dormitories or nursing homes. He said he’s discussed the issue with members of Congress.
“I’m actively exploring any means I can to make sure we get an accurate count, because at the end of that day that’s what it’s about,” Galvin said.
The population growth in Massachusetts has exceeded growth in other Northeast states, at a rate that’s sufficient to justify the state’s federal aid levels and to protect its representation in the US House, where Massachusetts has nine seats, according to Galvin.
Galvin said Massachusetts in 2000 and in 2010 reached out to college students and immigrants and “had pretty good success.” He estimated the non-native-born population in Massachusetts at more than a million people, out of an estimated 6.8 million.
“To make sure that that million is counted is going to be very challenging, not just the people who are legally present here, who are in fact should be counted but perhaps are in fear, but especially those persons who may not be legally present here but who are here, who work day in and day out in our state, who provide support to our economy that couldn’t function without them. They are here.”
Senator Sal DiDomenico of Everett pointed out that the state budget includes about $16 billion in federal funds. “If we don’t have accurate counts, our communities are going to feel it in a very big way,” he said.
Representative Michael Moran of Boston, who led House redistricting efforts after the last census, said he was encouraged about early organizing. He said some areas of his district are challenging to count and that everyone who lives in Massachusetts needs to be counted in the census “no matter where they’re from.”
“To do that correctly I think we’re going to have to reach out to some people who maybe haven’t been engaged in this process for a while,” Moran said. “We know — the census is telling us — that they’re cutting back on staff. They’re cutting back on budgets. We know that the amount of people on the streets are not going to be the same as it was 10 years ago. We’re going to have to try to find a way in the coming months to see if we can assist with that. It might be some assistance in funding. It could be some assistance in technology.”
Low-income areas in cities were the most difficult to obtain accurate counts in 2010, said Luc Schuster, director of Boston Indicators, a Boston Foundation research institute, as well as college students, people who rent or move frequently, and people living in group quarters or non-traditional households.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in April in the case surrounding a possible citizenship question on the census, Schuster said. “Ultimately this is going to be up to the new very conservative Supreme Court to decide,” he said. “My understanding is we’ll get a decision in late spring or early summer.”
The next census will also be conducted online, which could facilitate organizing at community meetings, or in other settings.