OCEANSIDE — As the end of 2019 approaches, cities across the nation are gearing up to count residents as part of the United States 2020 Census.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that every person living in the country is counted every 10 years as part of the census. That national count of heads helps to determine where $675 billion in federal funds goes in the country based on population numbers. Those funds fuel services like police, firefighters, schools and hospitals.
The U.S. Census also determines how the number of congressional seats at the federal level as well.
According to Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, the 2010 Census did not go well for Oceanside. With the city’s upcoming campaign to get the word out about the census, she is confident that the same thing won’t happen again.
“We were severely undercounted 10 years ago and this time we’re going to definitely get an accurate count,” Sanchez said at City Council’s Oct. 9 meeting. “We all count and we’re going to get the money that we ought to get from the feds.”
According to Roberto Garcia, a representative with the U.S. Census Bureau and Oceanside resident, 2020 will be the first time the census offers the ability to respond online. Other ways to respond to the census are by phone or by mail.
Garcia explained that people will soon begin receiving reminders by mail that gives an identification code that allows them to access the census questionnaire. The U.S. Census Bureau hopes that a “large amount” of people will respond this way, Garcia added.
Several reminders will be sent out in the following months.
This year’s census is putting extra emphasis on reaching out to hard-to-reach populations. These populations include Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Middle Eastern and North Africans, immigrants and refugees, farmworkers, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, homeless individuals, those with no or low broadband access, veterans, seniors, children between the ages of 0 and 5 and households with limited English proficiency.
“I just want to clarify that the census is safe,” Garcia said. “We cannot and will not share any information with any other agency or law enforcement.”
Garcia said he and other U.S. Census Bureau employees have sworn an oath to protect the information they gather, and if they violate that oath, they can be sentenced to five years in prison or a $250,000 fine.
“We take this seriously,” he added.
The information gathered in the census will not be released for 72 years.
Though the U.S. Census is a national effort, virtually all of the work gathering its information happens locally.
According to Connie Hernandez, the California Census 2020 regional program manager and deputy tribal liaison, the state has invested approximately $286 million to ensure those hard-to-reach communities are counted.
The state has designated several community-based organizations with one in 10 different regions to act as its partners in the census count. San Diego and Imperial counties are in Region 10, and the United Way of San Diego is one of those partners.
According to Hernandez, one of the state’s challenges is trying to make people understand how important each individual person is in the census count.
“We have to make it meaningful for folks,” Hernandez said.
The 2020 Census website can be accessed at 2020census.gov. The public can begin responding to the census online in March. Census day is officially observed on April 1 every 10 years.
Between June and July, census takers will go door to door count people who have not responded to the 2020 Census. These census takers will provide proof that they are official government personnel.
The Census Bureau is required by law to report to the president of the United States the population count and the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to each state. The initial date will be made available to the public in 2021.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son