Census Outreach More Important Now than Before
By Dianne Anderson
Getting the headcount right for the census is now more important than ever, as low income Black and Brown communities fight to survive through an unequal health care system and the disastrous impact from COVID-19.
Depending on how many forms are filled out this time around, an estimated $675 billion each year – or more – will be distributed nationally for local programs within struggling communities of color.
Sky Allen, a census coordinator, said their nonprofit is not only reaching out to remind the community about the need to complete their census forms, but she is also pointing them to vital resources that they need right now.
“When this pandemic exploded, it shifted all of our plans. We’re trying to ground it in reality and meet people where they are in a humane way,” said Allen with Inland Empowerment, a coalition of community organizations to increase civic participation.
Lately, as she calls to remind people to fill out their forms, she hears about their many other needs. People are hurting, and more willing to open up about their personal situations.
Some folks have been laid off and struggling to find food, she said, “Many people have cabin fever, when you do get someone that answers the phone, they’re a lot more willing to share.”
While she has them on the phone, she emphasizes the reason why the census is important over the next decade.
It means more money for the community to support programs and services. Filling out the form also helps prepare local communities for emergencies like the pandemic.
As the state shut down, her outreach approach also switched gears. They were able to access county voter files, and quickly pivot to phone banking to talk with the community about the census.
“Of course, we also check in on them to see if they need resources regarding COVID, and direct them to food banks,” she said.
From the start, her organization has taken a grassroots approach above and beyond the numbers. Last year, they started knocking on doors and showing up at swap meets, trying to get as local as possible to reach hard to count communities.
“We got into educating people about the census to build relationships with the community and to strengthen it. Our community is hurting extra right now,” said Allen. Inland Empowerment is a team of different faith building organizations in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.
Civic and voter engagement is the other priority area for the organization. In addition to directing people to resources, she wants the community to understand that the census is linked to representation within the political process.
Initially, the nonprofit wanted to pursue the census focus in 2018 for an accurate count, but outreach is also about getting the community empowered to vote. As they’ve been phone-banking, they talk about how the census is closely tied to redistricting and reapportionment.
It ensures that states and counties get the best census headcount, which determines whether a state will gain or lose a congressional seat.
By now, almost everyone should have received their census reminder in the mail, but she knows that it is a hard time to call when so many people are losing their jobs. Some people have relatives and families in the hospital.
“It’s really difficult for people to focus on the census because it feels so abstract,” she said.
Not long ago, the census deadline was moved up to August, and recently that deadline was once more pushed up to Halloween.
So far, about 50% statewide have responded. Locally, it’s about 47%.
“It could be a little more difficult to get people to focus on the census but people are doing it,” she said. “We’re going to be calling on folks and posting on social media. Hopefully, in a few months, we’ll do other kinds of outreach. We’re almost halfway there.”
To fill out your form and complete your census, see www.my2020census.gov
If you have questions visit californiacensus.org or call 844-330-2020 for answers