Coronavirus Presents Challenges to 2020 Census

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Coronavirus Presents Challenges to 2020 Census

Community members hold a rally at a kickoff for the 2020 Census on March 12. (TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo)

RAFU STAFF AND WIRE SERVICES

The challenge of administering the 2020 Census has been made more difficult with the coronavirus epidemic, but civil rights leaders emphasized the importance of the decennial survey to ensuring an accurate count.

On March 12, the bureau began sending out the first of several invitations to participate in the 2020 Census. Those invitations will continue to be delivered until March 20 and the Census Bureau is encouraging everyone to respond online upon receipt.

Instructions are included, and provide the web address for the online questionnaire in English, as well as 12 additional languages, ensuring that more than 99 percent of U.S. households can respond in their preferred language.

Jason Tajima heads up the Census effort for L.A. County.

Speaking during a telebriefing on Friday, John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said, “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. Essential rights are at stake. We need the ability to gather evidence needed to protect from discrimination. The Census should look like America.”

The results inform how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.

The necessity to socially isolate has led to changes in the Census campaign.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced that it had established a task force and was carefully monitoring the coronavirus situation and will follow the guidance of federal, state and local health authorities while tallying the population.

The bureau said it created the Census Bureau COVID-19 Internal Task Force to continuously update its Pandemic Addendum to the Census Bureau Continuity of Operations Plan.

In a written statement, the bureau said its preparation and contingency planning focused on the health and safety of its staff and the public while fulfilling its “constitutional obligation to deliver the 2020 Census counts to the president of the United States on schedule.”

Yang said that grassroots groups are shifting their efforts from in-person outreach to phone-banking and dropping off literature at places where Asians congregate such as supermarkets and clinics.

He noted that issues of personal privacy are a concern in the Asian American community.

“It’s imperative to remind the public of the legal protections that will protect their responses. Confidentiality prevents any officer of the government from using information from the Census for anything other than statistical data,” Yang said.

Telephone assistance is available seven days a week from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. for those who prefer to respond by phone.

Some households, in areas less likely to respond online, will receive a paper questionnaire in the first mailing. All households that have not responded online or by phone will receive a paper questionnaire between April 8 and 16. The paper questionnaire includes a prepaid postage envelope, so it can be returned by mail.

Census takers plan to conduct the non-response follow-up operation in a handful of communities beginning as early as April 9, and across the country on May 13. Households can still respond on their own during this phase. Online and phone response is available through July 31.

The bureau also said that if it needed to delay or discontinue non-response follow-up visits in a particular community, it was currently conducting fieldwork for some of its non-decennial surveys by phone in areas seeing a coronavirus outbreak.

“We will work to share information about any change in operations
with local authorities, community partners and the media,” the statement read. “We will also work with community partners to continue to encourage self-response through the end of the non-response follow-up phase.”

Additional workers may be hired or operational offices relocated as necessary, the bureau said.

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