By Reggie Ellis
Tulare County – Few California counties count on the U.S. Census more than Tulare County. The influx of nearly $200 million in federal funding provides essential services for a variety of programs that benefit its poorest residents. But Tulare County is missing out on even more federal dollars by not having all of its residents accounted for in the decennial census.
As Tulare County incomes continue to fall behind the rising cost of housing, Tulare County will count on the 2020 Census more so than the nationwide population polls of the past. This year, an undercount would mean Tulare County could lose a proportionate amount of the $115 billion in federal spending programs. That would hit the county particularly hard as more than a quarter of residents (27%) live in poverty.
Tulare County has the highest share of residents enrolled in Medicaid (55%), highest rate of food stamps (26%), one of the highest participation rates for free and reduced priced school lunches (76%), and is reliant on many other federal programs including section 8 housing vouchers, Pell Grant education funding, community development block grants for public safety, and Title I funding for schools, which covers everything from curriculum to counseling.
In addition to funding, Census counts help local government’s plan where future schools should be built, which roads should be widened and shift bus routes to follow growth patterns. It is also used to determine political representation in the California State Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Our job is to explain how important it is because a lot of people don’t think it’s a big deal,” Tulare County Supervisor Eddie Valero said. “If we want funds coming back to our community then we need to take this very seriously. People need to stand up and be counted.”
This year’s Census began at an inopportune time, just a week before the Governor’s shelter-in-place order went into effect. About 95% of Tulare County households began receiving a letter in the mail the week of March 12 inviting them to respond to the 2020 Census’ online form. The remaining 5% were supposed to be hand delivered in areas that only have P.O. Boxes or simply don’t receive any mail at all, such as Traver, Lemon Cove, Earlimart, Richgrove, Three Rivers and more remote mountain communities, but field operations were suspended on March 28. Instead of needing a 12-digit Census ID code, the Census Bureau is now encouraging all households, especially those without mail, to respond to the Census online at 2020Census.gov or call in your answers. Anyone needing assistance to fill out a questionnaire can call the toll free number and get assistance in English (844-330-2020), Spanish (844-468-2020), Portuguese (844-474-2020) and 10 other languages (Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Arabic, Korean, Polish, French, Haitian, Creole and Japanese. There is also a telephone display device phone line at 844-467-2020 for the hearing impaired.
Those who did not respond online by April 8 should have received a hard copy that can be completed and mailed back. Valero represents many of northern Tulare County’s unincorporated communities, including Ivanhoe, as the District 4 representative on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. He said he is concerned that many of his constituents don’t have internet access.
The San Joaquin Valley Census Research Project, published in January 2019 by the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, found that one-quarter (24%) of the Latino immigrants living in the valley lack internet access. The most prevalent mode of Internet access is via cell phone, which can make surveys more difficult to navigate. Older Latinos were less likely to have internet access than younger respondents, 90% of those 25 and younger compared with less than 20% of those 65 and older. The report said Tulare, Madera and Merced counties would be “disproportionately affected by patterns of undercount identified in the research because they have higher proportions of foreign-born Latino non-citizens than other counties in the region.”
“Tulare County is the second most undercounted counties with the exception of Imperial County,” Valero said.
That trend seems to be holding true as Tulare County is again lagging behind the state in self-response rates. As of April 22, the most recent data available as of press time, Tulare County’s response rate was 48.3%, better than Kern County (47.4%), about the same as Kings County (48.6%) and just behind Fresno County (51%) and the state (53.2%). Ivanhoe was right in line with the county response rate at 47.8%.
Those who do not respond online, by phone or by mail will be visited by an enumerator sometime after June 1, depending on when the shelter-in-place order is lifted by the Governor.
If a resident is leery of someone at their door, they can confirm they are a Census employee by entering the name on their badge into the Census Bureau Staff Search, https://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/main/email.cgi, or by calling the California Regional Office at 213-314-6500 or toll–free at 800-923-8282. If it is determined that the visitor who came to your door does not work for the Census Bureau, contact your local police department. It is a federal crime to impersonate a federal official, and anyone who violates this law is subject to imprisonment.
To avoid scammers, the U.S. Census Bureau said its employees will never ask for the following: Payment to fill out the questionnaire; Social Security number; financial information, such as bank account or credit card numbers; money or donations. Additionally, the Census Bureau will not contact you on behalf of a political party.
No Question on Citizenship
Most of the questions on the Census are demographical, including number of people in the household, familial relations between those people, sex and sexual orientation, race and homeownership. Even the question about a resident’s country of origin is not related to citizenship or immigration status, it is simply to determine the ethnic makeup of the United States.
The question that has grabbed the most headlines won’t even appear on the Census. President Donald Trump first posed the idea of adding a citizenship question to the Census last spring. After a series of district court decisions blocking the question, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately remanded the case to the Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau.
“There is no question asking residents for their citizenship or immigration status [on the Census],” said Barbara Pilegard, associate regional planner for the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG).
Pilegard, as well as TCAG principal planner Robert Brady, are spearheading the efforts of the Tulare County Complete County Committee. The committee is a subset of the California Complete Count Committee, whose goal is to accurately count the number of people living in the state.
A major battle over participation in this year’s Census is the fear that a citizenship question remains. Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about individuals, households, or businesses, even to law enforcement agencies. In other words, the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cannot use your personal information against you in any way. All Census Bureau staff take a lifetime oath to protect the personal data of residents and violations come with a penalty of up to $250,000 and five years in prison. The law states the information collected by the Census may only be used for statistical purposes and no other purpose.
“The Census is a count of every person living in the United States, not every citizen in the United States,” said Cindy Quezada, a senior program officer with the Sierra Health Foundation.
Even your address is protected under a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that addresses cannot be disclosed through courts or through a citizen’s request using the Freedom Of Information Act requiring the disclosure of public documents. “No court or law can subpoena census responses,” the Census Bureau states on its website.
Quezada has extensively studied this year’s Census as one of the authors of the San Joaquin Valley Latino Immigrants survey of the Census. The study underscored the importance of the Census to Latino residents who benefit the most from federal programs tied to population data based on the decennial Census. The report stated that a Valley-wide undercount of Latino immigrants could decrease the Census 2020 for an area by about 188,000 persons, costing the eight-county region about $200 million per year—simply from the Latino undercount and possibly more than $2 billion over the next decade.
Quezada is currently an employee for The Center at Sierra Health Foundation, which announced $3.8 million in Census outreach funding for 15 community based nonprofits in Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern and Inyo counties earlier this year. The group is focused on reaching “hard-to-count” Census tracts, where there are barriers to language, literacy, internet access and transportation. These tend to be rural areas where multiple families may be living under one roof. These families are particularly hard to count due to concerns with citizenship, immigration status, financial scams, identity theft and more violent crimes.
“The Census Bureau takes precautions to using your data by adding noise to the data, making it impossible to connect any personal information to an address,” Quezada said. “After it is collected, that information is aggregated and becomes anonymous.”
Once data collection is complete, the Census Bureau will begin a lengthy, thorough and scientifically rigorous process to produce the apportionment counts, redistricting information and other statistical data products that help guide hundreds of billions of dollars in public and private sector spending per year.
In order to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau has asked Congress for an additional 120 days to deliver final apportionment counts. The extension through Oct. 31, 2020 would allow residents more time to respond and give enumerators more time to follow up with those that don’t. Data could then be delivered to the President by April 30, 2021 and redistricting data to the states no later than July 31, 2021.
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