LOS ANGELES — The U.S. 2020 Census officially kicked off on March 12 and for the first time in its 230-year history, every household in the nation will receive a unique census identification number for online log-in to complete the survey.
The online format is part of a concerted effort to make the process quick and convenient to increase census participation nationwide, especially in communities of color where undercounts are the norm.
“The magnitude of the effort in L.A. County demonstrates the value we place on ensuring every person is counted,” said Antonia Hernandez, president and CEO of the California Community Foundation. “Too much is on the line. We must all stand up and be counted.”
California Community Foundation was appointed by the state to act as the region’s administrative community based organization for the 2020 Census and is responsible for leading and coordinating education and outreach in Los Angeles County, which is ranked the nation’s most difficult region to count.
The foundation has funded more than $12 million in grants to 100 community-based partners from every corner of the county. The network of community groups have formed a “We Count LA” campaign to ensure all of Los Angeles is counted.
Community Coalition is responsible for disseminating census information and support to South Los Angeles and the South Bay region. Kirk Samuels, director of civic engagement with the Community Coalition, said the “digital divide” in South Los Angeles for those that have do not access to high-speed internet and broadband, as well as concerns for privacy and security might hinder an accurate census count.
Prior to the recommended “social distancing” resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, Community Coalition was prepared to address those concerns by providing locations where people could complete the online census form and have questions answered on the spot.
Samuels said in the wake of coronavirus, most census-related communications for the public and census workers are done via video conferencing and emails.
“Every hour there is new information coming out because we’ve never dealt with anything like his before,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re all on the same page and we all have an action plan so that we can get a clean accurate count.”
Although the question regarding citizenship is not included on the census survey, many still have concerns that the current administration may change course and their information will be compromised.
The Census Bureau is required by law to protect all information it receives (Title 13, U.S. Code, Section 9). The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release responses in a way that could identify specific individuals or households. Violating the confidentiality of a respondent is a federal crime with serious penalties including a federal prison sentence and a fine of up to $250,000.
Samuel estimated that each uncounted person amounts to around $20,000 in lost federal resources for the community where that person resides. According to “Counting for Dollars for 2020,” a report by George Washington University Public Policy Institute, the 2010 census guided spending for 300 programs nationally and 55 programs in California and directed funding for more than $115 billion.
Social and federal programs funded based on the census count include WIC, SNAP, Head Start, Medicaid, Nutritional Assistance Programs, student loans and grants and housing vouchers.
The 2020 census is projected to determine how more than $1.5 trillion a year in federal money is distributed across the country over the next decade.
In addition to allocation of federal dollars for community resources, census figures also determine political representation. More people in a community means more congressional representation and the likelihood of more legislation introduced and passed that supports the community’s interests.
Underserved African-American communities like South Los Angeles that have a large number of residents incarcerated in correctional facilities should see an increase in the census count. That is due to the passage of Assembly Bill 420 in 2011, introduced by former Assemblymember Mike Davis and signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bill requires the Department of Corrections to report the home addresses of incarcerated people to the Citizens Redistricting Commission so that the commission may count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes. The legislation goes into effect after the 2020 census.
Even with the increased numbers from the prison population, it is still critical that everyone is counted, Samuels said. He is concerned that with the ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, completing the census forms may not be a priority.
“Historically, we’ve been undercounted,” Samuels added. “That’s why it’s so important even with the obstacles that are in place that everybody fills out the census and stands up to be counted so that we can make sure we’re getting everything that we’re due.”
By Cynthia Gibson