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Count the Ways: Census Delivers a Big Impact for Californians

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Lorna De los Santos was a single mother raising two children when she became aware that the U.S. census determined the funding for her children’s school lunches and other programs that benefited her family.

That was 20 years ago, when she first volunteered to help AARP California educate the public about the 2000 census. This year the community clinic outreach worker, 56, is participating in her third census as an AARP volunteer in San Diego.

“At first I did it for my kids, and now I have to do it for my grandkids,” De los Santos said. “I want more services for them, and, of course, I want them to have a good education and health care.”

Every 10 years the census count determines the number of U.S. House members for each state and the amount of funding each receives from many federal programs, including schools, roads and services for older adults, such as Medicare Part B.

In California the 2010 census decided how more than $115 billion in funds for 55 programs was allocated. Getting an accurate count of residents in the nation’s most populous state is a top priority, said Luis Campillo, AARP California regional manager.

“As AARP California continues to work on livable communities and other programs, we want to be sure cities have the resources they need to provide services to people age 50 and older,” he said.

By April 1, all households should have received an invitation to participate in the census, said Vanessa Moreno, media specialist at the Los Angeles Regional Census Center.

Online, mail or phone

“This is the first year that we are inviting them to answer online,” she said. “They can also answer by mail or by phone. If their answers are not attainable, the last step would be to send a census taker to their house.”

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, such visits may happen later than originally planned, possibly in the summer. Few households will be visited. Census workers will have a U.S. government–issued badge and phone.

To avoid impostors, AARP California reminds residents that census workers will not ask for Social Security numbers or bank or credit card information.

Moreno said all people living in a household should be counted. Nationwide, an estimated 5 percent of children under age 5 weren’t counted in the 2010 census, according to the Census Bureau.

California’s diverse population poses an extra challenge, as 200-plus languages are spoken in the Los Angeles region alone. AARP California has translated materials into several languages and is advertising on Spanish-language radio to make sure that everyone, including undocumented immigrants, is counted.

“We want to encourage them to answer the census without fear that their information will be forwarded to other agencies,” Moreno said. “The benefits of answering the census are for everyone, citizen or not.”

De los Santos said she remembers her parents responding to the 1990 census, the first one after she emigrated from the Philippines in 1983. She said she wants to address the concerns of other immigrants about responding to this year’s census.

“When they complain about roads that need to be fixed or the need for better hospitals, I say the answer is the census,” she said. For more information, visit 2020census.gov or aarp.org/census, or call 800-932-8282 or 844-426-2020 (Spanish).

Laura Mecoy is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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