New York City is racing against the clock to count as many residents as possible for the U.S. Census, raising fears that a significant slice of the population will be left unaccounted for, costing the city crucial federal resources for the next decade.

Last weekend, supporters of a comprehensive count were granted a reprieve when a federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s order to wrap up the count a month ahead of schedule. The COVID-19 pandemic, which struck the United States in full force beginning in March, had severely kneecapped counting efforts, leading to a postponement of the census deadline until October 31st.

Later on, however, the Trump administration reversed course and demanded that the counting conclude at the end of September so population numbers could be handed off to the White House by December 31st, when Donald Trump—no matter the outcome of the November election—is still in office. The Trump administration has long complicated the decennial process, attempting to exclude noncitizens from the population count.

“New York City has been handicapped from the beginning by demographic change and then loud noise about anti-immigrant sentiment from Washington,” said Kenneth Prewitt, the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau and a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “The census did overlap with COVID in New York City in a dramatic way. In the middle of Kansas, it hadn’t hit there yet [in March], but it hit here at the worst possible time for the census to be doing its work. It’s pretty straightforward and saddening.”

While a month delay would be a boon for New York City, with its high population of undocumented immigrants and other difficult-to-count communities, other hurdles remain, including minimal assistance from the New York State government helmed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Julie Menin, the director of NYC Census 2020, City Hall’s initiative to ensure an accurate count of city residents, said she was not banking on the federal lawsuit giving more breathing room for the census to be completed.

“We are doing an all-out push in the last month,” Menin said. “We were at the center of COVID in March and April and May and June. Obviously, it had an impact on our ability to interact with New Yorkers.”

The city’s response rate for the census continues to lag behind the rest of the nation’s. As of September 8th, when numbers were most recently available, New York City had a response rate of 58.8 percent, compared to the nationwide rate of 65.5.

While New York is significantly behind cities like Seattle and San Jose, which have each surpassed 70 percent, the Big Apple leads a number of large cities, including Los Angeles, Houston, and Boston.

Mayor Bill de Blasio allocated $40 million to the NYC Census 2020 campaign. Initially, in the early months of 2020, money was going to be spent on a large in-person canvas operation to meet New Yorkers at their doors, which is still regarded as one of the most effective ways to ensure a household is fully counted, including children and relatives. The city was also banking on a large subway ad campaign to raise awareness of the census in the spring.

The coronavirus pandemic changed all of that. The city was shut down on March 22nd and all in-person census events—the door-knocking, the street fair and church visits—were halted. Menin said the money for the subway ad campaign was clawed back and redirected into a large television and digital ad expenditure.

The current campaign is multi-faceted. Outreach is done in 26 languages, with census workers dispatched to subway stations, beaches, park, and food distribution sites. In-person canvassing has resumed, but phone-banking and text-banking—sending mass, personalized text messages to New Yorkers through a program popular with political campaigns known as Hustle—are still central to the operation. Menin said more than 7 million New Yorkers have been texted.

Celebrities, including Cardi B and Alicia Keyes, have been enlisted for ad campaigns. Less glamorous, but just as pivotal, are the many community-based organizations that have been given city funds to conduct outreach in lower income, immigrant communities, serving as trusted messengers as misinformation continues to spread about Trump wielding the census to deport undocumented immigrants.

“People believe the information is going to be shared with other agencies,” said Lorena Kourousias, the executive director of Mixteca, a Brooklyn-based community organization that works with Mexican and Latino immigrants. “We can’t allow these communities to be erased.”

Data show there are roughly two types of neighborhoods facing severe undercounts: immigrant-heavy enclaves like Corona, Queens and some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan. The Manhattan undercount is believed to be a direct result of the pandemic, as many residents with means fled the city for second homes in March and either failed to complete the census or erroneously listed their second homes as their primary residences.

Menin said census workers have gone to the New York Board of Elections for data from absentee ballots cast in the June primaries to determine how best to reach Manhattan residents. “We are in a laborious process of literally mailing and calling all absentee voters,” she said.

New York City, according to close observers of the census, has been virtually on its own as it tries to count more than eight million people. While the State of California allocated more than $100 million to census efforts, Governor Andrew Cuomo only released $20 million of state aid to New York City last month.

The money was sent to the five borough presidents’ offices in New York City, with Manhattan taking the lead as NYC Census 2020 attempts to address the deep undercount there. The late release of funds has angered many who are hoping for a strong census response in the city.

“We have less than 30 days to complete the Census and no one can point to the state’s outreach strategy,” said State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been outspoken on issues pertaining to the census. “I understand the temptation to beat up on the federal government for their census suppression efforts—I have done it many times—but what has the state done? Where is the all-hands-on-deck urgency?”

While Cuomo touted $60 million in overall census spending last year, $40 million of those funds were simply reallocations from existing money in other state agencies, not additional spending. For advocates, the relative lack of new money dedicated to the census and the dearth of visible state-sponsored campaign initiatives has been frustrating.

Part of the challenge had been the lack of communication between Cuomo and city officials, as well as other localities, with months passing without any word from Cuomo’s office about when aid for the census would be allocated. Suddenly, without much warning, state aid materialized in the late summer, when census efforts were long underway. Some doubt whether the state cash, arriving so late, will make much of a difference.

Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment.

In the meantime, there should be a greater collective push from other elected officials to raise awareness of the census, said John Mollenkopf, a professor of political science and sociology at CUNY’s Center for Urban Research. Local politicians should be “blasting out ‘get counted’ census emails” virtually every day, renting sound trucks and treating the final push like a competitive political campaign, Mollenkopf argued.

“This is the time to hit the panic button,” he said.