Citizen question or not, strong Census 2020 effort crucial to count Sacramento

Citizen question or not, strong Census 2020 effort crucial to count Sacramento

Mayor Darrell Steinberg speaks to community and government leaders working on the U.S. Census at a June 17 workshop

Mayor Darrell Steinberg speaks to community and government leaders working on the U.S. Census at a June 17 workshop

Two days past the July 1 deadline to print forms for the 2020 U.S. Census, the Trump Administration is still pressing its controversial effort to include the question, “Are you a citizen of the United States?”

Leaders in the effort to achieve an accurate census count in Sacramento County were watching the situation with alarm, as a citizenship question is expected to significantly suppress participation by immigrants. It is widely viewed by critics as a political move meant to benefit Republicans.

Nearly 21 percent of Sacramento County’s residents are foreign-born.

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“A census count is about who is seen and who belongs in our community,” said Gabby Trejo, Co-Chair of the Sacramento Community Complete Count Committee. “A complete and accurate count of all our families independent of their status is key to ensuring our communities have the representation and resources needed to guarantee we continue to build a thriving community.”

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the citizenship question could not be included, though it left the door open by allowing the Commerce Department to try again if it offered a different justification. On Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the process of printing the census was moving forward without the citizenship question. President Trump contradicted that statement hours later, labeling as “fake” news coverage of the Commerce announcement. The Justice Department said Wednesday it would still pursue adding the question in the courts.

Even if the citizenship question is not included, achieving a complete count in Sacramento County will be a difficult task. With a large immigrant population and relatively high poverty, Sacramento County is considered the eighth hardest to count in California, according to the Sacramento Region Community Foundation.

Lower rates of English proficiency are another obstacle to accurate counts of immigrant populations. According to the California Census Office, 189,390 residents of Sacramento County have limited English-speaking ability.

The effects of poverty on households also pose a threat to census-response rates. Nearly 27 percent of Sacramento County residents have an income below 150 percent of the poverty level.

To face down these challenges, a dedicated group of Sacramento-area activists and public servants formed the Complete Count Committee, a census task force jointly supervised by Sacramento County and the Sacramento Region Community Foundation.

Armed with $1.2 million in state funds, the Complete Count Committee seeks to increase census participation in hard-to-count communities by empowering leaders in those same communities to develop their own outreach strategies. A subcommittee focused on the Latino population is chaired by Rachel Rios of La Familia Counseling Center; a subcommittee focused on people with disabilities is chaired by Tho Vinh Banh of Disability Rights California, and so on.

“Despite the Trump Administration’s effort to target our immigrant communities, I’m inspired by the diverse coalition of non-profit, business, academic and civic leaders working together in our community to make sure everyone is counted,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

In the words of region foundation CEO Linda Beech Cutler, “We are employing a community-driven strategy that will leverage the strength of our nonprofit sector and their relationships with the populations they serve.”

Among the targeted outreach strategies developed thus far:

  • Deploying “Census Ambassadors” into hard-to-count areas to knock on doors and encourage residents to complete the census, potentially with “elevator pitches” tailored to specific groups.

  • Establishing kiosks in that offer translation services in areas with high rates of limited-English speaking ability.

  • Deploying Wifi enabled vans – like the Sacramento Public Library vans – into areas with spotty internet connection; residents can drop off census packets or complete the online census onboard.

  • Media outreach tailored to hard-to-count ethnic groups.

The success of these efforts is crucial. The census count determines how federal funding will be distributed to states, counties, and neighborhoods for the next 10 years.

Those funds totaled around $883 billion in 2016, supporting everything from transportation to schools to social services. To learn how you can help Sacramento County achieve a complete count, visit http://saccensus.net/pages/involved.aspx

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