Reaching hard-to-count residents still a Census challenge

July 05 2020

Daily Republic July 5, 2020 By Todd R. Hansen

FAIRFIELD — Solano County continues to outperform the state and the nation when it comes to self-reporting census information – and Benicia is among the best anywhere.

But there are still residents in Fairfield and Vallejo who remain a challenge.

“They (census officials) have been working on the hard-to-count areas since last year,” K. Patrice Williams said in a phone interview.

“And so while we were walking during the (District 2 supervisor) campaign, we also gave out census material,” she said.

The March election did not go as the founder of the local chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action had hoped, but that did not end her commitment to getting the low-income, mostly lower-educated and language-challenged residents registered with the census.

“So since my campaign, this is what I’ve been doing,” Williams said.

This weekend, Williams joins about 150 other volunteers from 17 community organizations to conduct a “Social Media Census Takeover,” during which information about the census and the important reasons to be counted will be posted on a variety of social media platforms, and in a number of languages.

On July 18, Williams will be part of what she described as a multi-cultural caravan that will make its way through some of the hard-to-count neighborhoods.

“We need to close the gap,” Williams said.

She said failing to do so will cost the county a great deal of money in federal program dollars – programs many of those hard-to-count individuals rely on in their daily lives.

For each person who is not counted, the county would lose an estimated $1,000 every year for 10 years until the next census is conducted.

Williams said that another barrier to get past is a distrust of the government. It goes beyond residents who may be in the country illegally, but still count in the census. Immigrants in good standing are also concerned, as well as a general misgiving about providing personal information to the government.

Overall, Robert Burris, president and the chief executive officer for the Solano Economic Development Corp., is very pleased with the Census count to date – especially given Covid-19 and other unexpected challenges.

The EDC was contracted by the county to lead the local census effort, under the umbrella of United Way Bay Area.

A big part of the challenge is funding, although Burris said funds were set aside early to make sure they would be available for the critical summer push.

Some of that funding goes to organizations such as the one Williams is operating in those hard-to-count areas.

“Solano is doing very well in terms of self-reporting,” Burris said. “I think we are only a half of a percentage point off from our last Census.”

He said at the same time in the last Census, 67.8 percent of the county residents had registered. The count this year, even with Covid-19, is 67.3 percent.

California’s percentage is 62.7, while nationally, only 61.6 percent of the residents have registered.

“Benicia is in the top 20 responders in the state,” said Burris, noting the city’s 76.8 percent registration.

Vacaville also is doing well at 71.2 percent, and Dixon is at 70.6 percent. Suisun City and Rio Vista is each at 68.5 percent, Burris reported.

Fairfield’s number is at 65.9 percent, while Vallejo is lagging at 63.6 percent. Numbers were not available for residents in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Williams notes that at 70 percent, that means about 126,000 of 420,000 residents have not been counted, representing a potential loss of $126 million in federal funding each year for the next 10 years.

“That’s amazing,” she said.

Burris said one of the next steps is to hire people to go out to register those households that did not sign up on their own. That is set to begin in August.

Another part of the count that will begin this month is to register those individuals who live in group settings, including the jail and state prisons, and those who live in dormitories such as those on military bases.

Burris said census workers are also posting materials in places such as laundry mats and other locations residents still go as part of their daily lives.

Much of that material, he said, are in those hard-to-count census tracts.

“So we have a lot of work to do,” Williams said.

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