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COVID-19 and the Census: The Count Is Online and Alhambra is Ahead of the Curve

Image via U.S. Census Bureau; 2020 Census.


Alhambra , CA

Census Day remains on schedule for April 1 but because of the national COVID-19 emergency, many of the planned in-person activities to facilitate the count in Alhambra, as well as regionally and nationally, have been cancelled.

But the good news for those who understand the vital necessity of the census is that it is operating online and apparently pretty smoothly. In fact, Alhambra is slightly ahead of the curve in the percentage of households that have completed the form. As of March 27, 30.9% of California households had completed the survey but the figure in Alhambra was 33.2%, according to the response-rate page on the Census Bureau website. Those figures are updated frequently and the page is a handy tool to keep track of the census on a local, state and national level. 

The positive early level of engagement is encouraging, because long-standing plans to put census kiosks at libraries, community centers and city halls to offer help to those who need it have been cancelled under the “Safer at Home” guidelines in the COVID-19 emergency. In addition, regional census offices, including the ones in Pasadena and West Covina, are closed. The hiring and training of census staff has also been suspended during the emergency.

Officials have been taking to social media to encourage their constituents to go online and complete the form, which takes about 10 minutes. To complete the census, go to my2020census.gov.

A complete and accurate census count is vitally important for Alhambra and the West San Gabriel Valley because it will help determine how many seats California gets in Congress. State and local officials also use census data to draw boundaries for congressional districts, state legislative districts and school districts, which dictates where to allocate millions in California’s federal funding.

And it is important in the context of COVID-19.

“This is exactly the kind of urgent situation that proves the importance for an accurate census count to better understand what resources are needed and how to support our communities,” said  Xuanyu Zhu, Census Program Coordintor at the Asian Youth Center in San Gabriel, one of the non-profit organizations doing census outreach.

What’s At Stake in the 27th Congressional District

Rep. Judy Chu represents the 27th Congressional District, which includes much of the West SGV. The district is home to large Asian, Latino and immigrant communities. Even before the COVID-19 emergency, it was called one of the most vulnerable districts in the country in being able to achieve an accurate count.

Over the last year, Chu has been in the forefront of trying to raise public awareness on the importance of the census, holding informational workshops to allow various advocacy groups to learn and network, and also meeting with local officials and interest groups.

In an interview, months before the COVID-19 pandemic, she told the Alhambra Source that the district will “lose $2,000 for every person not counted in the census.”

The amount of money at stake in the census is huge: about $675 billion in federal funding that will be dispersed around the country for state and local programs. And, again, that was before the added pressures of the COVID-19 response and recovery.

According to Chu, these programs include “Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), Medicare, Part B, housing vouchers (Section 8), highway planning construction, special education grants (IDEA), the Children’s Heath Insurance Program (CHIP) and Head Start.”

All residents are required by law to complete the census. Individual responses are confidential and are used only in a statistical format.

Census officials continually maintain that respondents’ personal information or responses are not shared with any other government agencies. This, of course, is a vital issue in immigrant communities. In addition, all census employees swear to a lifetime oath to protect respondent information. Penalties for wrongful disclosure include up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

The first invitations from the U.S. Census Bureau to participate in the count arrived by mail at the homes of an estimated 140 million residents between March 12 and March 20. Those households that did not respond received additional reminder letters in the mail between March 16 and March 24. In each of the letters was a census identification code that could be used in online participation.

Revised Deadlines

To accommodate the realities of the nationwide COVID-19 response several census deadlines have been adjusted including these:

— August 14 is now the deadline for self response online, by phone or by returning the paper questionnaire. It was extended from July 31.

— Late April/early May is now the expected timeframe for what is called Group Quarters and Service-based Enumeration, which is one of the outreach efforts to count those experiencing homelessness.

— The launch of the in-person follow ups to those homes that haven’t responded, called Early Nonresponse Follow-Ups, have been delayed and now won’t start until May 7.

What hasn’t been delayed is the deadline for presenting the findings of the 2020 Census to the White House. That date remains, at this time, Dec. 31.

Census Activity in Alhambra

Since last summer, Alhambra’s city government has sponsored a Complete Count Committee comprised of local officials including  Mayor Ross Maza, Council Member Adele Andrade-Stadler, Chief Executive of the YCMA of the West San Gabriel Valley Valarie Gomez, AUSD board member Wing K. Ho and representatives from activist groups including the Asian Youth Center and the API/FM. The committee had developed a number of steps to encourage participation and help residents complete their forms. The Complete Count Committee, chaired by Van Nguyen, Alhambra’s marketing and communications specialist, was meeting monthly and still has an informative site with multiple languages on the City of Alhambra web page.

The Committee’s in-person work was discontinued under social distancing mandates. Also discontinued were plans to do census outreach at Farmers Markets, post flyers in bus shelters and offer more presentations on the census to various local groups.

But before activity came to a halt, the city placed a banner high above the intersection of Main and Garfield reminding residents about the count and urging them to get engaged. The city will also continue to insert census reminders in the city water bills.

City of Alhambra’s 2020 Census banner at Main and Garfield.

Activist organizations including the Asian Youth Center and Asian Pacific Islanders/Forward Movement have had to adjust their census outreach plans to reflect the current crisis but they are still working to facilitate a complete count. AYC’s census site is still seeking volunteers to help when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

The NALEO Educational Fund has a site devoted to 2020 Census and the importance of Latino participation in the count. 

“Our children, our family and our neighbors have a lot to gain by taking part in the census,”  said Zhu, the census coordinator at AYC. “An accurate census count ensures our community gets the resources needed to keep everyone across Los Angeles County healthy and safe; today and for the next 10 years.”

The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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