Staffers from the Chinese American Planning Council found themselves stretched thin during the pandemic. On top of their normal duties, staffers translated resources and materials about COVID-19 into languages that weren’t available on the state government’s website for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
“They had to learn about vaccinations, testing sites, the difference between one vaccine dose versus two-dose vaccines. They learned about unemployment insurance, federal stimulus payments and eviction moratoriums,” said Wayne Ho, president and CEO of the Chinese American Planning Council, of bilingual people on his staff who became experts on state services.
Ho argued part of the reason his organization was so needed was because the state lacks information about Asian Americans living in New York.
“They didn’t have information on Asian ethnic groups and because of that, they didn't have the proper resources out there to meet the needs of the state's fastest-growing community,” Ho said.
He’s one of many advocates and lawmakers calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign legislation that would require the state to collect more specific data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, rather than lumping many different Asian ethnic groups into one umbrella category.
Hochul is the second governor to consider the bill, which has been introduced multiple times since 2011, most recently this past legislative session. In 2019, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a version of it, arguing the bill would have created more financial obligations and operational complexities that weren’t accounted for in the state’s budget.
The decision was met with criticism from Asian American advocates and leaders, who say the demographic information will help the state distribute resources to Asian Americans more effectively. Now they await a decision by his successor.
It’s currently one of hundreds of bills waiting to be signed by the governor. Hochul’s office has not yet requested the bill from the Assembly, but a spokesperson said they are looking at it.
“Governor Hochul is a strong supporter of New York’s incredibly diverse AAPI communities and will carefully review the legislation,” Avi Small, a spokesperson for the governor, told City & State.
This version of the legislative bill is sponsored by Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou and state Sen. Julia Salazar. Similar to previous versions, it would create separate categories for several Asian groups including Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Pakistani and Indonesian.
“The reason why the disaggregation bill is so important is that Asian Americans are not one monolithic group, and we actually have a lot of hidden poverty,” Niou said. “We are technically the most impoverished ethnic group (in New York), but the Asian American community is also the last to receive any kinds of social benefits, and we receive the least amount.”
In the past 13 years, Asian American organizations only received 3.1% of city money that went to social services providers, according to the Asian American Federation.
The so-called model minority myth has painted the Asian American and Pacific Islander community as successful and too often has focused on a wealthy portion of the population, ignoring the lower-income populations, according to Lloyd Feng, special projects policy coordinator for the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families.
“Having better data on all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will do wonders in dismantling the model minority myth. There’s a lot of poor Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a lot of people who are struggling, a lot of people who need more opportunity and support,” Feng said.
The number of Asian Americans living in poverty in the New York City metropolitan area increased by 15% over the past decade, according to a report from the Asian American Federation. In 2010, over 252,000 Asian Americans lived in poverty in the New York metropolitan area. That increased to nearly 290,000 by 2019, mostly due to growth in the overall Asian American population.
In New York City, the Asian population grew at the fastest rate of 33.6% compared to other ethnic groups in the past decade. The population experienced an overall increase of 345,383, according to Census data.
“Asian, in a lot of people’s minds, historically and even now, still they think East Asian – Chinese, Korean, Japanese,” Feng said. “That completely erases the Southeast Asian populations, the South Asian populations. And then that PI (Pacific Islander) part that people often forget because the numbers might be small, but they also have different needs that are important.”
Niou said better data on the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities could have helped the state with vaccine distribution and language access issues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to an analysis of New York City public hospital data that separated Asian Americans into smaller subgroups, South Asians had the highest rates of positive COVID-19 tests (30.8%) and hospitalizations after a positive test (54.7%) among the Asian population in the first three months of the pandemic. Although Chinese New Yorkers had lower test positivity and hospitalization rates than South Asians, they had the highest mortality rate out of all racial and ethnic groups during that time.
The study, which examined more than 85,000 patients who needed care in the New York City Health and Hospitals, was the first to provide some disaggregated data on Asian American COVID-19 patients. Researchers used last name databases and language information to separate data into the city’s largest Asian American subgroups: South Asian, Chinese and “all other Asian.”
“I think these better (data) would have made the COVID response a lot more robust, and we probably would have been able to move faster,” Feng said.
For many Asian American and Pacific Islander New Yorkers, community-based organizations became their place to retrieve resources and services, where the state lacked during the pandemic. Ho mentioned receiving funds from foundations in the state and city to provide financial assistance to community members, ranging from undocumented families and essential workers to family daycare providers. While the efforts were impactful, he stressed that it should have been addressed by the government.
“We need the government to allocate fair and equitable resources to the diverse Asian American community,” Ho said. “We really need the government to work with us to really make sure our community not only has relief but has recovery.”