Faced with a looming deadline at the end of the month, Santa Clara County is pumping more money into a campaign to get as many residents as possible to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved $1 million in funding to complete the "final stages" of the census, which ends on Sept. 30. The county has already spent more than $6 million on the effort, most of which has been exhausted.
The most recent data shows Santa Clara County's population has already surpassed the previous 2010 numbers, but that dozens of census tracts are still lagging behind, county officials said. A total of 63 census tracts, primarily in San Jose and Gilroy, still have a self-response rate of less than 85%, sagging behind the 2010 numbers.
The 2020 census has been an uphill battle from the start, launching in March right as COVID-19 cases began to proliferate across Santa Clara County. A plan to launch door-to-door outreach was immediately scrapped in favor of phone calls, mailers and social media.
Even without a global pandemic, Santa Clara County's cultural diversity and need for multilingual services make it the ninth most challenging place to get an accurate census count in the entire country, said Deputy County Executive David Campos at an Aug. 27 press conference. Along with a huge investment coming straight from the general fund, the county started planning for the census more than three years ago, he said.
"The reality is that these are challenging and unprecedented times, and the level of investment the county is making is unprecedented, but we know that we can do nothing less than what we are doing for our community," Campos said.
While Santa Clara County's response rate has been uneven, the overall results have been positive: The county currently ranks within the top three response rates in California, Campos said.
Board President Cindy Chavez said at the Sept. 1 Board of Supervisors meeting that time is running out to get hard-to-count communities to respond. The Census Bureau had originally extended the deadline to Oct. 31, but announced last month that it would stop collecting data on Sept. 30. She said the money is intended to bring back the door-to-door knocking campaign by providing census workers with hazard pay.
In a letter to supervisors, Silicon Valley Community Foundation President Nicole Taylor said the county's current results amount to a "tremendous" accomplishment, but that low-response areas cannot be left uncounted.
"With the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the recent fires, it is clearer than ever that our region needs to have every resource available for a strong recovery and an accurate census count is key," Taylor wrote.
Results from the decennial census count will have a profound financial and political impact for the next 10 years. Not only does the census determine congressional seats, but it is used as the basis for allocating $1 trillion in annual aid to state and local governments.
In some ways, throwing in an extra $1 million on the census is a sound investment, said Supervisor Mike Wasserman. If the county generates an estimated $1,800 per person per year over 10 years, the boost in funding would be nearly paid off if it counts just 50 more people.
"I think this money is well spent, and I think in this case it's spending money to make money," Wasserman said.
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said she supported the bump in funding, but said the county should extend its campaign beyond just the most severely undercounted census tracts in San Jose and Gilroy — specifically District 5, which includes North County cities such as Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
Last year, worries swirled that there could be an undercount of noncitizens and Latino communities after President Donald Trump's administration sought to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The decision was subject to six lawsuits, and was blocked by the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote.
County staff describe the actions of the Trump administration as an attempt to "undermine the integrity (of the census) through fear and intimidation" by attempting to exclude undocumented immigrants. The Sept. 30 timeline only adds to those concerns.
"The most recent strategy to sabotage the census has been a reduction in the time available to federal, state and local governments to ensure an accurate census count by moving the deadline up by one month," according to a staff report.
Residents can go to my2020census.gov to fill out the census online or call 844-330-2020 to respond over the phone.