In the next few days, residents will begin to receive information on how to complete the 2020 Census. The Review spoke with San Mateo County’s Community Outreach Specialist Melissa Vergara about what to expect with the census this year and why it is important to be counted. Here’s a rundown.

What questions are on the census?

The census will ask how many people are living in the household, if any additional people are staying in the household, and if the home is owned or rented. It will then ask for a phone number, the names of each member of the household, their sex, age, date of birth, ethnicity, race, where else they might be living and their relationship to the person filling out the form. The census offers an online fact sheet with explanations for why it asks each question and how the data may be used.

Is there a citizenship question?

No. The 2020 census will not ask about citizenship or immigration status. Some test census documents sent last summer asked the question, but the Supreme Court ruled that the question could not be included. It will not appear on the actual census this year.

What’s new with the census this year?

This year the 2020 Census is online. People will be asked to use an individualized code sent to them in the mail. If people do not have the code with them, they can still fill it out online by entering in their address. If you do not have an address you can enter an intersection. There are new challenges this year because of budget cuts. As a result, some counties and cities have stepped up their outreach efforts. San Mateo County is working with organizations and partners to reassure people the census is safe and secure.

What’s the process? What happens if you do not fill it out?

An invitation to respond to the census is coming in the mail during the week of March 12 to 20. About 80 percent of residents will get an invitation to respond online. A second reminder letter will be sent the week of March 16 to 24 if the bureau has not yet received a response. A third reminder will be sent the week of March 26 to April 3. If there is still no response online, a paper census questionnaire will be sent the week of April 8 to April 16. One final reminder will be sent the week of April 20 to 27. After these prompts, an enumerator will knock on the door of people who have not responded. People can then either fill it out in person with the enumerator or respond online until July 31. Responding to the census is required by federal law. While it rarely happens, the Census Bureau can impose fines for not doing so.

What languages are available?

The census invitation that comes in the mail will be in both Spanish and English, but the online and over-the-phone census is offered in 13 languages. Online and at census centers across the county, census guides, with explanations for each question and how to properly respond, are offered in 59 languages.

Who is counted?

Everyone. The census takes a count of every person living in the country, regardless of immigration status, age or criminal history. Whoever fills out the census for the household should include everyone who is living in the residence including children, grandparents, extended family and any non-family members such as roommates, friends or colleagues.

Is census information secure?

Information about individuals collected by the Census Bureau is confidential and will not be shared with other governmental bodies such as immigration or welfare offices. The information provided cannot be used for any law enforcement purposes or to determine eligibility for governmental programs. Census workers take a lifelong oath to protect the information they collect and face a $250,000 fine and up to five years in jail if they violate it. Once collected, census information is encrypted.

Why is it important?

Data collected from the U.S. Census is used in determining how much federal funding the state and the counties receive for programs such as health care, transportation and schools. The data is also used to reapportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Locally census data can help inform governments, businesses and nonprofits on their decision-making about the need for new roads, hospitals, schools or other public sector investments. 

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