The census 2020 season has officially arrived for parishioners of the Diocese of Orange and the public at large.
On Thursday, March 12, more than 140 million households began receiving mail from the 2020 U.S. Census “inviting” them to participate in the official attempt to count every person in the country. The full Census, mandated in the U.S. Constitution, has been held every 10 years since 1790.
However, the process has been complicated and threatened with a delay in the wake of the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic.
So, what do you need to know?
WHAT IS THE COVID-19 EFFECT ON THE CENSUS?
The Census and its nonprofit and faith partners are grappling with the unfolding coronavirus pandemic that has shut down church services, businesses, some government offices and sports leagues nationwide. And, as with everything else, the future is murky and ever-changing.
Although the lack of the face-to-face ability to help local parishioners with questions about the count is a setback, the Church is pushing efforts to stay in touch with congregants in other ways.
“We’re really ramping up our social media, phones and mailers,” said Greg Walgenbach, director of Life, Justice and Peace for the diocese. “Primarily we’re looking at phones and online messaging.”
This stretches beyond the Census, Walgenbach noted of the Church’s overall efforts to remain connected to parishioners in the absence of weekly Masses and other gatherings.
“As we build up our phone teams, and check in with everyone, we’ll include questions about the Census and helping build that up,” he said.
Officially the Census hopes to deliver the count on time, by Dec. 31, 2020. However, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic could push that date back, according to recent news reports.
This year, for the first time, the Census is available online. The Census estimates 60 percent of U.S. residents will respond online at mycensus2020.gov. By March 16, more than 3 million had responded.
In dealing with the virus, the Census Bureau writes, “Our preparation and contingency planning centers on two key principles: The health and safety of our staff and the public is of the utmost consideration and importance. We must fulfill our constitutional obligation to deliver the 2020 Census counts to the President of the United States on schedule, and we must adhere to our core task of counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place.
As a result, the Census still plans to begin in-person counting by phone and in-person at unresponsive households in April and continuing those operations through July. However, door knocking has been pushed back from mid to late April and could be adjusted back depending on the virus progress.
Mobile Questionnaire Assistance Centers that had been planned at diocese sites by the end of March are on hold.
For now, a Census Sunday event planned for April 26, in which information on the Census would be available across the diocese, is still on tap, but could be delayed or cancelled.
CAN I ANSWER BY PHONE?
Yes. Phone lines are open between 4 a.m. and 11 a.m. on the West Coast and available in 13 languages. They are:
Chinese (Mandarin): 844-391-2020
Chinese (Cantonese): 844-398-2020
Haitian Creole: 844-477-2020
TDD (Telephone Display Device): 844-467-2020
The Census also has web pages and guides in 60 languages, including American Sign Language, as well as guides in Braille and large print.
WHY IS THE CENSUS IMPORTANT?
It’s all about representation and money. Census data is used to apportion seats in the U.S. Congress and to draw district lines at all levels of government. More important to residents in their daily lives, the Census helps guide how more than $800 billion in federal money is distributed and spent for programs ranging from health care and education to roads and housing.
DO I HAVE TO PARTICIPATE?
Yes. Censuses are mandated in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Participation is legally required of every person 18 older in the United States, including those who are foreign born or undocumented. Anyone 18 older who refuses to participate or deliberately falsifies information can be fined up to $5,000. However, the bureau also says no one has actually been prosecuted since 1970.
HOW DO I KEEP CENSUS WORKERS FROM COMING TO MY DOOR?
The most foolproof method is to fill out a questionnaire in a timely manner. The 2020 Census has been designed to be more user friendly than ever.
Meanwhile, the Diocese stand ready and committed to opening and maintaining communication with all its congregants. “If we can get out the word,” Walgenbach said, “There’s a lot the Church can do to help.”