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County encourages residents to participate in census
Census 2020
Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Terry Withrow speaks during Monday’s census kickoff event in Modesto (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Ahead of the 2020 census, Stanislaus County officials want to let the community know that everyone counts.

Every 10 years, the U.S. government counts every person living in the country, collecting data to be used in decisions like how much federal funding, grants and support will be given to states, counties and communities, and for the purposes of reapportioning Congress. While the census is still months away, the Stanislaus County Complete Count Committee held a kick-off event Monday in Modesto to promote participation in the population tally throughout the region.

“With the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we send in from this county every year, it’s crucial that we get those dollars to come back to our community so they can be spent here,” Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Terry Withrow said. “We can’t stress enough how important it is that we have accurate information, and we encourage everyone to participate and everybody in this county to be involved.”

The State of California is spending $100 million on its census effort to ensure that every person is counted, as the totals account for 80 percent of the state’s federal funding. In 1990, the state lost out on $20 billion because not everyone participated.

Since the last census took place in 2010, there have been several changes. For the first time, the 2020 census will allow residents to respond online, increasing accessibility. This is especially important in Stanislaus County, which is typically undercounted due to its high population of vulnerable communities, including veterans, Latinos, homeless, seniors and young children.

Carmen Morad of the Complete Count Committee said that one of the more sensitive changes to the upcoming census is President Donald Trump’s push to include a citizenship question for the first time since 1950, which could leave immigrant families reluctant to respond. She wants to assure those who may be fearful that their private information will not be shared with anyone, including immigration enforcement agencies.

“We want to turn that fear into pride and let people know they don’t have to be afraid of the census,” Morad said. “Every member of the community, even refugees and immigrants, they count.”

In Turlock, migrant workers are historically undercounted, Morad said, in addition to families without access to technology and those who speak English as a second language.

Morad explained that even if a resident is not a legal citizen, they still use education, healthcare, transportation and employment services, making their participation in the census crucial to understanding the area’s population and what kind of services are most needed.

Though the official count won’t take place until next April, Morad and the CCC are hard at work spreading the word. Postcards will go out to residents asking them to take the census online, and if they do not respond, they will also be sent a paper form. Organizations will be able to host events where people can fill out the census together online, as well as “call-a-thons” where they call a toll-free number and answer the questions.

During the course of the next year, the U.S. Census Bureau will open nearly 250 census offices across the country. Stanislaus County stands to lose up to $2 billion in federal and state funding if the census numbers are misrepresented in the region, and a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that an accurate count in California is at risk, potentially putting one of the state’s congressional seats in danger.

“We want to make sure everyone’s counted,” Morad said.