Accurate census count is critical

Yes, this will be my second column on the upcoming census in as many months, but hopefully you’ll forgive me. After all, there’s a lot at stake here. What happens in 2020 will determine the fate of our region’s communities for the next 10 years.

Did you know that, according to the U.S. government, Ventura County is in the top 2% of counties “at risk” for undercounting in the upcoming 2020 census?

Why would Ventura County be any different than other counties? It seems, according to the federal government, that we have an overabundance of factors that will challenge census takers. Among them: potentially hundreds of individuals (if not more) who may be in the country illegally and who are fearful of being asked if they are a citizen (they won’t be).

A complete count is critical because, among other things, the census is used to determine the amount of our tax dollars that come back to us for things like social services and public safety (police and fire). In addition, the census determines congressional representation, can factor into new home values and informs businesses if our communities are a match to “set up shop” in.

In the social service arena specifically, the stakes are incredibly high. According to the Ventura County Community Foundation, for every person not counted Ventura County will lose $2,000 per person in social service funding, or $20,000 per person over a 10-year period.

Based upon the 2010 census, Ventura County received $1.7 billion in federal funding.

Invitations to the 2020 census will be mailed to homes between March 12 and 20. Most households will first receive a letter asking them to complete the census questionnaire online, with information about how to respond online or by phone in English plus 12 other languages.

The link supplied in the mailing takes you directly to the survey, just like a link would take you to Amazon.

People in areas less likely to respond online will receive a paper questionnaire along with an invitation to send the form in by mail or take the survey over the phone.

If no response is received, a census taker will come to your home to follow up in person. You can also go to the library and use the computers there to take the census.

I am told the census for this year will take no more than 10 minutes. The survey consists of nine questions which are very basic and do not require any Social Security number, credit card, bank account or other information that might lead to problems such as identity theft. As a matter of fact, if you were to apply for a library card, a bus pass or a driver’s license you would be supplying more personal information than you do for the census.

Most of the questions will be similar to previous census forms and include:

The number of people living or staying in a home on April 1, 2020.

Whether the home is owned with or without a mortgage, rented or occupied without rent.

A phone number for a person in the home.

The name, sex, age, date of birth and race of each person in the home.

Whether each person is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.

The relationship of each person to a central person in the home.

Under current federal law, the Census Bureau cannot share responses identifying individuals with the public or other federal agencies, including immigration authorities and other law enforcement, until 72 years after the information is collected.

The U.S. census counts every resident in the U.S. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and takes place every 10 years.

You can skip questions, submit an incomplete census form and still be included in the head count. But you can be fined for refusing to answer a census question— although the penalty has rarely been enforced in the past.

The more likely scenario is that if no response is received, or if you return a partially filled-out questionnaire, it may result in a follow-up phone call or visit from a census worker.

To learn more about the 2020 census, go to census.ca.gov.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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