SANTA CRUZ >> With U.S. Census Bureau workers no longer outside advocating for census participation because of the coronavirus, Santa Cruz County stands to lose millions of dollars in state and federal funding if its residents are undercounted.
What is the census and how do I take it?
The census is a count of everyone living in the U.S. and its territories. It happens every 10 years.
Residents should have received a mailer in the last week or two with a census ID code. Residents can go to my2020census.gov and enter that census ID. It’s just a few questions — the name, age, gender, marital status and race of people in your household. One person should respond for each home.
People also can still take the census even if an ID code was not received by visiting the same link above.
The census can also be taken by phone from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Call:844-330-2020
Details and the phone numbers to take the census in other languages are listed here.
To fill out a census form and send it to the federal government by mail, click here.
Why should I take the census?
Census counts are used to determine:
- How federal funding is allocated. For example, how much money Santa Cruz County gets for Section 8 housing vouchers, Pell grants, school meals, Head Start early childhood programs, Medi-Cal, food stamps, highway planning and construction and many other programs depends on census counts.
- Electoral districts. Congressional, state and even city council districts use census data to draw district boundaries. Redistricting is done every 10 years.
Census responses help shape the future of Santa Cruz County for the next 10 years, said Joseph Watkins, assistant project director for the U.S. Census Bureau in Santa Cruz County.
“It’s like a free fundraiser for the community,” Watkins said Friday.
Census workers focus on what they call “hard-to-count” communities, that they predict would have low response rates, for example communities with many new immigrants, or with few English speakers.
They’re trying to avoid an undercount, said Josh Green, a media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau.
“For each person that doesn’t get counted, that’s literally many millions of dollars that aren’t going to the community, that should be going,” Green said Friday.
Responding to the census also is required by law.
How has the coronavirus emergency impacted local census operations?
Usually, census workers would be in the field, doing in-person outreach during this time. Instead, to limit the spread of the virus, workers are trying to get the word out online and over the phone.
Door-to-door outreach to people who have not responded has been delayed until May 28.
How many Santa Cruz County residents have responded to the census so far?
The U.S. Census Bureau has posted response rates for cities, counties, states and census tracts on its website. The map is updated daily.
These are the response rates as of Friday night:
- Santa Cruz County: 18.1%
- City of Santa Cruz: 21.9%
- Scotts Valley: 20.7%
- Watsonville: 10.7%
- Capitola: 20.9%
- California: 14.7%
What’s the deadline?
The official deadline to respond to the census is Aug. 14. It’s been pushed back due to the coronavirus emergency.
April 1 is called “Census Day,” but that’s not a deadline — that’s just a reference point census workers use. The census questionnaire asks every resident where you’re living on April 1. It’s meant to take a snapshot of the country on that day.
U.S. Census Bureau workers plan to personally follow up with residents who haven’t responded to the questionnaire by April 1. The tentative plan is to start going door-to-door on May 28, according to a statement Friday from the bureau.
How are homeless people counted?
The latest plan is for census workers to do a three-day count from April 29 to May 1. They’ll fan out to homeless shelters and unsanctioned camps to conduct counts in person. But plans are in flux due to the coronavirus emergency.
People who are homeless can also go online to my2020census.gov and fill out the census form there. You don’t have to wait for census workers to come to you.
Do I have to fill out the census if I live in a group living situation?
It depends. If a UC Santa Cruz student is living in an off-campus shared house, then yes — one person from that house should fill out the form for everyone who lives there.
People in shared living situations such as a college dorm or nursing homes do not have to fill out the census. Census workers will reach out to the director or administrator managing the dorm or nursing home.
What if I’m undocumented? Is it safe to fill out the census?
The census form does not ask a question on whether a person is a U.S. citizen. By law, the census is used for statistical purposes only and cannot be used for law enforcement.
Watkins, of the Census Bureau, said if someone is still worried about sharing information, they can choose not to list an exact address. A public space such as a park or intersection can be used as an address. Picking a park or intersection in the person’s community helps ensure that the community gets funding and resources.
Is my data confidential?
The census is used for statistical purposes to illustrate the makeup of a community. People can’t use the data to find out your name or where you live. Individual records are kept confidential for 72 years, according to the Census Bureau.
Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.