With millions of federal dollars on the line and the risk of less political representation, Long Beach isn’t taking any chances when the 2020 Census questionnaire makes its way into thousands of homes in the city this spring.
For the first time, Long Beach is committing a record amount of money and resources and taking part in coordinated efforts to ensure an accurate count required by law every 10 years. This year, Census Day is April 1.
“There is no bigger issue in 2020 than for us to ensure that everyone is counted,” Mayor Robert Garcia said during a joint informational hearing with the Assembly and Senate Census committees at City Hall in early December. “The ramifications that will affect everything we do, all of the funding mechanisms and programs, are critical for us to get the services that we need.”
The census will determine the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives—some forecasts predict California will lose a seat for the first time—and used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to states and local governments for services like public safety, housing, health and human services, education, transportation and environmental protection.
The state receives about $77 billion in federal funding annually, with Long Beach receiving over $80 million a year and $32 million in grants, according to city officials.
Long Beach has injected $540,000 of its own money since 2018 into Census outreach efforts and has received thousands of dollars from the state through the County of Los Angeles as well as the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Los Angeles County is considered the county in the nation most difficult to count because of its immigrant, homeless and renter populations. In Long Beach, the city’s north, west and central areas are considered the hardest to count.
And while the highly controversial citizenship question will no longer appear on the Census—which will be online only for the first time—community stakeholders have been preparing for several months to tackle potential misinformation surrounding what has become a politicized event.
Aware of the high stakes, multiple entities in Long Beach have joined forces to be part of complete count committees that share best practices and the latest news. This is how some of them are gearing up for the 2020 Census:
Speaking during last month’s informational hearing, Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson said the city has not only invested funds but plans to utilize many of its departments to engage the community. Be prepared to learn about the Census at city parks and libraries and read about it in utility bills. The city also plans to reach out to its 750 Neighborhood Leadership Program alumni to act as trusted messengers. The city will also continue working with its workforce development agency Pacific Gateway in recruiting more enumerators after it was revealed that the bureau is below its goals. The city, along with the Long Beach Unified School District, is the co-chair of the Long Beach Complete Count Committee.
Long Beach Unified School District
At that same hearing, Quentin Brown, program administrator in the deputy superintendent’s office, said the school district plans to add Census Action Kiosks at every school site where families can learn about and fill out their Census questionnaires. Starting in January, K-12 students will also learn about the Census through a specifically developed “Count Me In” curriculum in social science, science, math and English classes. District officials will also continue to get the word out through social media, at PTA meetings, parent forums and other events.
“We’re going to really utilize our students,” Brown said. “They are at the grassroots. They’re going to go home and talk to their parents and tell them about the importance of the Census.”
Cal State Long Beach
At CSULB, its Center for Community Engagement has led a Campus Complete Count Committee (the first of its kind at a California university, according to its executive director Juan Benitez) which includes multiple community partners and fellow campus departments and programs like Student Affairs and Associated Students Inc. The committee has been planning campus-specific outreach and working with community-based organizations to provide help via internships, research and other types of technical assistance. The committee will also host Census Action Kiosks and other spring 2020 events, according to Benitez.
As the local community convener for the Census, this nonprofit works behind the scenes to recruit as many grassroots neighborhood groups and community-based organizations as they can and prepare them to be trusted messengers that validate messages from the government, according to its Associate Director James Suazo. Outreach has already begun with some groups hosting “Census fiestas” or talking about the Census via Facebook Live.
In January, expect to see these Census ambassadors (think Khmer Girls in Action, Latinos in Action and Filipino Migrant Center) knocking on doors and tabling at various events. Once the Census provides timely data in the spring showing who hasn’t completed their questionnaire, these groups will be able to narrow their focus while enumerators follow up in person during the summer.
There is one subgroup that will have a harder task. Cambodian community groups will have the additional obstacle of not having the Census questionnaire in Khmer, since it is not one of the nine official languages designated by the Census. In response, these groups have banded together to form the Cambodian Complete Count Committee. Laura Som of the MAYE Center said this committee will be covering Central and North Long Beach for a population of about 95,000 residents. The staff will be trilingual (English, Spanish and Khmer) to ensure an accurate count, Som said.
It’s a lot of work but Suazo said investing in the Census this early has never happened before, which may be key to reaching more people.
“The majority of people we’ve talked to don’t know about the Census,” Suazo said. “Even longtime community members didn’t even know there was a census in 2010.”
To learn more about the Census click here.
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