Opinion: COVID-19 shows why Californians should complete Census - The Mercury News

By Marc Berman

What if I told you that, in exchange for just a few minutes of your time, you could personally generate from the comfort of your home thousands of dollars for your community? And, if you have a spouse and two kids, that the amount would increase to tens of thousands of dollars? Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

It is — and all you have to do is answer nine questions. That is the power of the national once-a-decade population count known as the Census.

Last year California received roughly $78 billion from the federal government distributed based on the results of the Census. These dollars fund programs that are critical to the strength of your community, including, for example, education, housing and transportation. These are programs that you, your loved ones and your neighbors rely on like Head Start, affordable housing grants, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

In addition, Census results are used to determine the number of seats every state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. For the first time in California’s 170-year history, there’s a real danger that we could lose one or more congressional seats, weakening our political clout in Washington.

State and local governments also use Census data for public safety, emergency preparedness and community planning, including where to build new roads, critical infrastructure and schools. Businesses use Census data to forecast where to invest and grow their businesses, and developers use Census data to decide where to build and which neighborhoods to revitalize.

The stakes are high. Unfortunately, the challenges are too.

California is a big, bold, beautiful and diverse state. In so many ways, this diversity is our strength, but when it comes to the Census, this also makes California the hardest-to-count state in the country.

There are over 200 languages spoken in California, but the Census will only be offered in 12 non-English languages online and by phone, and the follow-up paper form will only be printed in English and Spanish.

In addition, even though it is against the law for the U.S. Census Bureau to share your information with any other government agency, many in our immigrant communities are understandably fearful about providing information to the federal government. Please be assured that this information is safe and protected, and there are no questions about residency status.

There are also real operational challenges. For the first time, the Census will be conducted primarily online. While this will be particularly challenging for those living in rural California, even here in the Bay Area many residents do not have a reliable internet connection.

For those reasons and more, California has invested $187 million into a statewide outreach and communications campaign in coordination with our regional, local and philanthropic partners across California.

You should have received a letter in the mail from the U.S. Census Bureau inviting you to participate in the Census, and everyone can now get counted online at my2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020. There is no greater investment in California than participating in the 2020 Census. If you have kids at home from school, fill it out with them and turn it into an educational experience.

Ten minutes of your time will impact the next 10 years for your community.