The census was first taken in the U.S. in 1790 as mandated by the Constitution. This once-a-decade survey has only 10 questions that should take 10 minutes or less to complete.  It asks basic questions like, name, age, race and ethnicity about each person living in a house. The census counts every person, once and only once, and in the right place.

Why is the census important? 

“Federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities are based on population totals,” Weinzveg said. “Census-related funding includes Medi-Cal, SNAP/CalFresh, Section 8 housing, state children’s health insurance program, highway planning and construction along with Title 1 grants to local education agencies. Census data also helps to build schools, supports fire management, creates jobs and improves housing.  Our community benefits the most when the census counts everyone.  We stand to lose approximately $1,000 per person per year for the next 10 years for each person not counted in the census.”

Businesses use Census Bureau data to decide where to build offices, factories and stores. Real estate developers and city planners use census data to plan new homes and improve neighborhoods. Local governments use the data to ensure public safety and plan new hospitals.

Everyone counts in the census regardless of their relationship or citizenship status. The process starts April 1 and includes all people living in the U.S., including babies, young children and seniors as well as immigrants, relatives and extended family members living in the home along with non-family renters who may be living in the garage, trailer or a backyard accessory housing unit.

This includes anyone who is living and sleeping in each home most of the time. Children were widely undercounted in the 2010 census, so it is important to count any child living in the household whether or not they are family.

There are three ways people get counted – online, by phone and by mail survey. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 95% of households will receive their census invitation in the mail and 5% will receive their invitation to participate when a census taker drops it off (this will mostly be households that use a P.O. box instead of a physical mailing address to areas recently affected by wildfire).

United Way is developing a postcard with information on how to complete the census will be sent to approximately 194,000 P.O. box holders throughout Region 2 of Northern California. This card will ask households to go online to complete the census and, if they need assistance, they can call the Census Bureau phone number provided and complete the questionnaire over the phone or request a paper form to fill out and return.

Census day is April 1. The goal of the outreach and education campaign is to encourage people to complete the census form by April 1. Those who do not complete the census questionnaire by April 30 will be visited by a census taker. Households will receive an invitation to respond on or between March 12 and 20.

“The online response portal will remain open through June 2020, so even if a household has not responded by April 30, and a census taker has not visited their home as yet, they can still go online and complete the questionnaire.” Weinzveg said.

“Everyone is counted at their usual place of residence. People experiencing homelessness, living in group quarters, or transitory locations will be counted at the location they reside or at service locations (for the homeless) by the U.S. Census Bureau between April and June.”

She said the census response website is safe and confidential. It is protected by extremely strong laws and the Census Bureau is not allowed to share your personal information with anyone – including ICE, police, or other agencies. Furthermore, the Census Bureau can only use your response to create general information about the population, like how many people live in a city and statistics about age, gender and race.

Role of the United Way

“I have to confess that I was asked no fewer than three times to apply to the state regional leader for census work before I agreed,” said O’Donnell. “It involves covering seven counties with a minimal amount of money and lots of state red tape. But eventually I was convinced that we had to step up because the census is so important for all the reasons Nicollette explained, and also because UWWC is uniquely positioned to fill this role.”

UWWC already covers five of the seven counties in the local census region and has community connections across government, nonprofit, foundations and businesses.  UWWC also has grant-making experience.

“Support through our United Way network is also serving as a regional lead in many parts of the state. The United Way fights for education, financial stability and health of every person in every community. We can’t do that if we don’t know how many people live in our area and who they are.”

O’Donnell said while the Federal government’s responsibility is to conduct the actual census, “everyone can play a role in census outreach, and we have chosen to take on the challenge. In Sonoma County, our largest hard-to-count populations include Latinos, immigrants, children 0-5 years old, seniors, renters and people living in crowded households.”

She said UWWC’s strategy is about outreach and access, making sure everyone understands the census basics and how to access help in getting counted.  “We will reach these goals by working through community partners trusted by various hard-to-reach populations in our region. They will be doing this through a variety of in-person, traditional and social media outreach. They will also make sure people know how to access in-person help.  This help will be available by calling 211 or in person at many of our partner locations and at public libraries.”

O’Donnell acknowledged UWWC’s partners – both funding sources and grantees – who will serve as trusted messengers.

Partners include:  211 Humboldt, California Human Development, Catholic Charities, Center for Wellbeing, Community Action Partnership, Community Childcare Council of Sonoma County, Corazon Healdsburg, Disability Services & Legal Center, Family Resource Centers of Mendocino County, Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, Human Response Network, La Luz Center, Napa Valley Community Housing, Northern CA Indian Development Council, North Coast Opportunities, Petaluma People Services, Puetas Abiertas, Southern Humboldt Family Resource Center and Up Valley Centers of Napa Valley.

How the Census Affects Business

Businesses can use Census Bureau statistics to help guide them in the decision-making process for where o open a new business or what to stock on the shelves. They can use demographic information for specific communities when making hiring plans and where they may have the best chance of seeing a high return on their investments.

State and local governments use Census data to determine how to allocate billions of dollars for public services, including hospitals, schools and roads, which will – in turn – generate opportunities for private sector businesses.

O’Donnell said the best thing Sonoma County Alliance members can do is fill out your own census form and then tell everyone you talk with to complete theirs.

“As business and community leaders, you can use your influence, voice and reach to help affect a successful outcome for the 2020 Census. You are a trusted messengers to your colleagues, friends and clients. Engage them through conversations and with outreach materials. If you are interested in being a census advocate by helping to spread our message, please contact me or Jennifer to get access to our census outreach materials,” O’Donnell added.

“Sonoma County has faced a lot of adversity in the past few years and a complete count will ensure that our community receives its share of federal funds to support our wellbeing. This is your opportunity to really make a difference by taking 10 minutes to complete your questionnaire and by encouraging your network of contacts to do so as well.”

Contact us at: ( 707-528-4485, ext. 141 and (  707-528-4485 ext. 110. Please consider following UWWC’s Facebook and Instagram pages and liking and sharing our content.