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Officials Say Cities Suffering From Undercount

April 18, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The 1990 census is bypassing a few people. Like those who live in the odd zip code, subdivision or skyscraper in Houston.

Officials from that city and others gathered Tuesday to trade tales of woe and ask the federal government for help in the high-stakes headcount that will determine how much aid they’ll get and how many congressional representatives they’ll have for the next decade.

″There is still time for an accurate count,″ said Hulbert James, director of special projects for New York City.

But he and others said that will only be possible if the government provides more money for the count, keeps its district offices open well into next month and launches a major publicity campaign to persuade people to fill out forms and talk to Census Bureau counters.

Even President Bush needs to get into the act, they said, by making public service announcements that tell people they can safely open the door and talk to enumerators who show up to count them in person.

James said the 1990 headcount is in ″a crisis situation″ in the cities. He and other officials, members of a census task force of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, gave snapshots of what is going on in their cities:

-Houston officials initially estimated 10 percent of city residents did not get census questionnaires and were projecting a maximum $40 million loss due to undercounting. But that was before a special census phone line started getting 900 calls a day from people who didn’t receive forms.

″We discovered that whole zip codes were being missed,″ said Patty Knudson. She said entire subdivisions were skipped and entire skyscrapers filled with condominiums failed to receive forms.

-Jessica Heinz, deputy city attorney in Los Angeles, said 70,000 forms were returned to the post office as undeliverable. And she said 108 of 556 people in a recent survey did not recall receiving census forms.

-Jai P. Ryu of Baltimore said 81,000 census forms were returned as undeliverable to a Towson, Md., office that serves the Baltimore area. ″We believe most of them are from Baltimore, which means well over 10 percent did not get their forms,″ Ryu said.

-James said New York City would lose about $150 a year for each person that did not fill out a census form. The initial projection was a $100 million a year loss for 10 years, until the next census, he said, But mailing problems will probably drive the loss up higher. James said the city found 1,000 blocks with more than a half-million residents that were not on the census list of addresses. He suggested many still were not on the list at mailing time.

The Census Bureau has estimated as many as 4.5 million people did not get census forms. James said the number may be closer to 9 million.

He and others also complained that the Immigration and Naturalization Service made high-profile sweeps of immigrant neighborhoods at the same time the Census Bureau was trying to encourage illegal aliens to fill out the confidential forms.

James said there had been a number of INS raids in the past seven weeks in the Washington Heights area of New York, home to many immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Others cited recent raids in Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif., and San Antonio, Texas.

″We did not expect that there would be public raids during this period,″ James said.

New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Dade County, Fla., the state of California and groups representing mayors, blacks and Hispanics are already in court suing the Census Bureau on the theory that any count will be inaccurate.

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