Census Day falls on April Fools’ Day next year, a possible portent of concerns that the census count be taken seriously by the counted — as much as $1,958 stands to be lost in California for every person who fails to be counted in the 2020 Census — and that’s for every one of the 10 years until the next census. An undercount has political consequences as well, including possibly losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and the redrawing of district boundaries.
The greatest issue for the census is trust, said Dennis Bozanich, deputy county CEO: trust that the information residents give stays secure and trust that it will not rebound on an undocumented person. Families living together in an overcrowded home have to trust the information won’t reach their landlord, he pointed out. Supervisor Gregg Hart noted that the census count is hard in the best of times, but much harder when people are legitimately afraid.
To engage county residents, the 92 members of the Complete Count Committee were working with churches, schools, community organizations, and other groups trusted by the Spanish- and Mixtec-speaking communities, Bozanich said. The county would set up a Spanish-English website on October 15 with the slogan “Todos Contamos / We All Count.” QAC-Ks, or Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Kiosks, will go up around March, likely targeting hard-to-count areas like Santa Barbara’s lower Westside, the outskirts of Lompoc and Santa Maria, and Isla Vista.
The 2020 Census can be filled out online — questionnaires go out in March and respondents have until the end of July to finish — or via a toll-free number, that has access to about 70 languages, will be available to fill out the census orally; and traditional paper, stamp, and envelope is another option. The electronic nature of the census, Bozanich added, provides a picture of where the census is not being filled out; that allows the county to give the area assistance or information. From about May onward, according to the census timeline, census workers begin knocking on the doors of households that failed to fill out the forms. “We’re actually thinking of saying ‘Avoid the knock,’” Bozanich told supervisors, to encourage timely responses.
Santa Barbara County has received $354,000 of the $90 million California is spending to support the count — to which 55 percent of people are expected to comply, down from 63.5 percent in 2010. The roughly $2,000 lost annually for every person who goes uncounted is a critical sum for a state that received almost $77 billion in 2015 based on census numbers. About 74 percent of Californians belong to a group that is considered to be undercounted, and many of the groups live in Santa Barbara County, among them the foreign born, those who speak a language other than English, those below the poverty line, young children, and people with disabilities.
Election turmoil in the months before the state census kickoff on April 1 — California’s presidential primary occurs on March 3 in 2020 — could consume advertising airtime, Bozanich said. And the national political turmoil roiling immigrant communities, as well as the fear prompted by debates of a citizenship question — removed from the 2020 national census — is another visible obstacle to a complete count, he noted.
Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who lives in the Santa Ynez Valley, asked Bozanich about two men who had questioned some fence painters in her neighborhood. “They had census badges,” she said, “and they asked the painters who they were and where they lived. How do we know who’s coming?” she asked. The men were indeed federal census workers, Bozanich answered, who’d been checking residential addresses provided earlier by the county. He said the federal census had agreed to give the county advance notice of where they would be working, though Hartmann questioned how that information would reach the public.