During this unprecedented moment in history, in the midst of the ongoing global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most important national events of the decade has launched: the 2020 Census.
More than ever before, our critical programs and services are being strained to their limits. The health and financial impacts reverberating through our San Joaquin Valley are providing powerful evidence of the inequities that cause vulnerable populations to be undercounted and the downstream impacts of that result. Many of the resources required for short and long-term response and recovery now, or their availability in the future, can be tied back to this critical count.
Our commitment to achieving a complete count in the San Joaquin Valley began in early 2018. The Center at Sierra Health Foundation secured more than $5 million in funding from the California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office and philanthropic partnerships. We collaborated with a coalition of 61 trusted local community organizations, including the Dolores Huerta Foundation, to reach the San Joaquin Valley’s hardest-to-count populations and get every community counted in the 2020 Census.
Our grassroots strategy is led by community partners with decades of experience serving, organizing and mobilizing hard-to-count communities across a variety of issues ranging from clean water to voter engagement. As one example, the Dolores Huerta Foundation joins other local, trusted community partners to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate census outreach to hard-to count communities that are most likely to be undercounted in 2020 Census efforts. These communities include Latino, African American, Asian, LGBTQIA, immigrant and non-English speaking populations, people with disabilities and communities that will be disproportionately impacted by the effects of the current pandemic.
Although COVID-19 has required us to adjust our strategy of community engagement, our coalition of partners is more resolute than ever to achieve a complete count. We are pivoting to remote approaches that include virtual Zumba classes coupled with census songs and education, “house” meetings through FaceTime, live census Q&As on various social media platforms, community phone trees and traditional phone banking, among other activities.
As advocates and philanthropic leaders, we’ve long fought for the equity our communities desire and deserve, but it has become abundantly clear during the current public health crisis that our systems are overloaded, and our communities are underfunded. It’s predicted that for every Californian not counted, the state could lose up to $1,000 in funding per person each year for the next 10 years. That means the San Joaquin Valley would miss out on essential funding for things like hospitals, parks, schools and affordable housing programs. An undercount would also mean less local, state and national political representation for the Valley – fewer people on school boards, city councils, U.S. Congress and the California State Legislature to help bring your voice to the table to fight for your priorities and needs.
Significant efforts are being made to ensure every household responds to the census. The Center, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and our other community outreach partners are ensuring that people know the 2020 Census responses are protected by law and cannot be shared with any other government agencies, law enforcement – or anyone else for that matter. The census will not ask you or others at your address if you are U.S. citizens.
California’s history as the hardest-to-count state in the nation, coupled with the necessary physical distancing measures enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, means we have an uphill battle ahead of us when it comes to ensuring a complete count. We can’t do it alone and need your help. Spread the word among family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Call someone up and offer a helping hand if they need it. Even though we are physically apart, we must come together in spirit and mobilize for a complete count. It’s going to take a village!
Everyone has the responsibility and right to participate in the Census. We can add to the story of who we are as a community, neighborhood, region, state and country. Participating in the Census not only means securing critical financial support for your communities for the next decade, but it also means safeguarding your political representation and ensuring that your community is seen and heard.
It is easier than ever to participate without leaving the house. Staying at home is important to keep our families and communities healthy. The Census questionnaire can be completed quickly online at my2020census.gov and by phone at 844-330-2020 (a list of in-language options and support is available here and guidelines in more than 50 languages are available here).
Get counted today and do your part to shape the safety, health and future of all our communities. The time is now. Si se puede, San Joaquin Valley! Yes we can!
Dolores Huerta is the founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and Chet P. Hewitt is the president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation.