The 2020 census has garnered a lot of attention this year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a citizenship question cannot be included on the questionnaire and this is the first time households can respond online.
The changes and sometimes negative publicity are spurring local governments to step up education efforts to curb misinformation and help residents navigate the new format as the count nears. It’s important: State and federal funding are on the line.
The city of Half Moon Bay is working closely with San Mateo County for outreach efforts, and city analyst Victor Gaitan said the biggest concern right now is the spread of misinformation, especially regarding the citizenship question. City officials are collaborating with community partners to explain to residents why they should provide information to U.S. Census workers.
“I could talk about it all day and why they should fill it out, but at the end of the day I work for the government,” Gaitan said. “It’s really going to be leaning heavily on our community partners to be those trusted messengers.”
San Mateo County doesn’t appear on the Census Bureau’s “hard to count maps” that indicate communities that had low response rates in the 2010 count. Half Moon Bay and the surrounding Coastside had response rates between 80 and 83 percent.
Although most households will receive a postcard in March 2020 that tells residents how to respond online, people can request a paper questionnaire or answer the questions over the phone.
“In theory, for most people it is easier and faster (to do online), but I’m sure you have a lot of people here on the Coastside that might not be as technologically literate,” Gaitan said.
Gaitan recently talked to Assistant Director Matt Linton at La Costa Adult School where there are a variety of ongoing outreach measures. Linton said the school will provide a civics project this spring that will focus on the census and host an ambassador team from the San Mateo Adult School next week to present on the count, which is required every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution.
Moreover, the school plans to have dedicated times during which students can come with their family and friends to complete the questionnaire online using provided Chromebook laptop computers.
Linton said he noticed the census received negative attention in the community when it was possible a citizenship question might be included.
“It turned a lot of people away,” he said. “Now that that’s not on there, we can help re-educate.”
Other organizations and government bodies are also working on outreach. Puente de la Costa Sur is planning to hire a census coordinator to help with outreach along the South Coast. San Mateo County has created multiple committees and groups to encourage residents to respond to the census.
Individual responses to the census are protected under federal law and cannot be shared with any government agencies. The data as a whole is used to determine state and local funding, district boundaries and the number of U.S. representatives, among many other things. Local governments also use the data in decision-making.
“It’s important we draw on resources out there and use each other to support the messaging and inform our students and the people we work with of the importance of the census,” Linton said.