Everyone counts: Why the census matters more than ever

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By David J. Canepa

The 2020 Census gets underway soon and it’s critical that every person living in the county is counted to secure federal funding for medical services, including clinics and children’s health insurance, housing, emergency preparedness, nutrition programs, infrastructure and a host of other services.

However, there are some hard-to-count neighborhoods in the county that could jeopardize the amount of federal dollars San Mateo County receives. African Americans, Hispanics and renters are commonly the most undercounted. A 1 percent undercount, for example, could cost San Mateo County coffers up to $75 million in lost revenue a year, or about $750 million over the next 10 years.

We cannot afford to lose this money as it is an incredible job creator and helps keep our communities safe and healthy.

As co-chair of the county’s Census efforts this year, I can tell you that our Office of Community Affairs (OCA) is starting to conduct extensive outreach to highlight the importance of the Census and why each resident needs to be counted.

If your community is undercounted, low-income areas would lose federal funding for textbooks, school supplies and food for students, which aid children in meeting academic standards, according to the OCA.

The county would also lose federal Section 8 housing vouchers, a critical tool used to boost the production of affordable housing and to provide rental assistance for low-income residents.

Most residents will get an invitation to respond online to the 2020 Census starting March 12. Some households will also receive paper questionnaires and reminder letters will be sent out March 16. If you haven’t responded by March 26, you will receive a reminder postcard. If you haven’t responded by April 8, you will get a reminder letter and paper questionnaire in the mail. Starting April 20, a final reminder postcard will be sent before Census workers start to follow up in person.

It is critical at this time to let everyone know, citizen or not, that the data collected is completely confidential. There is no citizenship question on the Census and no individual who participates in the Census will be put at risk in any way.

For 2020, the Census Bureau will use a new privacy protection system designed specifically to protect against emerging threats in today’s digital world, according to the OCA.

The Census Bureau does not share information about a specific business, household or individual. It combines information to share overall trends in a community, according to the OCA.

Since there may be some fear in our immigrant communities that participating in the Census will compromise their privacy, it is especially important this year that faith leaders and churches play a key role in this effort. After all, about a third or 250,000 individuals living in the county are foreign born.

Also, about 1 million young children in the United States were not counted in the last Census – the highest of any age group, according to the Bureau.

We can all make a difference in the places we live, work and worship.

Why? Because everyone counts.

David J. Canepa serves on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

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