WATSONVILLE—With roughly 64% of Watsonville having already taken the 2020 Census, the community is keeping pace with the state and national self-response rate.
That, Deputy City Manager Tamara Vides said, is something to be proud of, considering the unprecedented circumstances the community has faced during the Covid-19 pandemic along with the political challenges the Census has had to overcome.
“It’s good,” Vides said, “but we think we can do better.”
With time winding down on the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau for the next two months will be sending “Census Takers” to homes that have not yet filled out the decennial survey. Their goal is simple: make sure that every person in the community is counted.
“That’s all they’re there to do,” said Census spokesman Josh Green. “We’re going to every household, door-to-door to get a complete and accurate count.”
These “Census Takers” will visit homes between 9am and 9pm and be easily identified by their official U.S. Census ID badge, vehicle and bag. They will also have a smartphone that they will use to help people complete the Census on the spot.
The “Census Takers” are also trained in the latest health guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials, Green said. That means they will be wearing facemasks and practicing physical distancing during their visit.
“We take this very seriously,” he said.
The “Census Takers” will be knocking on doors until Sept. 30. Representatives from the Census will also make appearances throughout Watsonville at locations such as the Watsonville Public Library (Aug. 19 & 20), Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes (Aug. 17 & 18) and the Second Harvest Food Bank distribution (Aug. 21) at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.
People who have not yet filled out the Census do not need to wait for the knock on their door to do so, as they can still submit their survey via mail, phone (call 844-330-2020 from 7am to 2am daily) or the web. Those who speak Spanish can call 844-468-2020 or visit 2020census.gov for information.
The process takes roughly 10 minutes, according to the Census Bureau.
A part of the U.S. Constitution, the Census is a once-a-decade survey of the country’s population that determines congressional representation and how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated.
The data is also used to determine which communities need new schools, clinics, roads and more services for families, older adults and children. And it can also influence investment in the private sector, as businesses often use the results to determine where to open new stores, restaurants, factories or offices as well as where to expand operations and recruit employees.
“We know how important [the Census] is,” Vides said. “It will affect us throughout the next 10 years.”
The data cannot be shared with another government agency or law enforcement.
The Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep the information confidential. Under Title 13, the Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about a person, their home or business, even to law enforcement agencies. Violating Title 13 is a federal crime, punishable by prison time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.
Still, city leaders fear that some Watsonville residents will be wary of responding to the Census because the information could be used by federal agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a misconception that Green says the Bureau has tried to squash for years.
Along with assuring the community that the process is confidential through bilingual public service announcements in various media, the Bureau has partnered with the County of Santa Cruz and City of Watsonville on multiple outreach campaigns. One campaign hired various local artists to create bilingual chalk art on densely populated streets urging people to take the Census. A more recent campaign was the Bee Counted Watsonville Bike Caravan in which dozens of cyclists rode through undercounted neighborhoods to promote the importance and raise awareness of the Census.
“People do not need to be afraid about this operation,” Green said.
Vides, who has been the City’s point person for the Census since it started its push in 2018, said there have been numerous “barriers” to achieving a complete count over the last two years.
Many of those hurdles have stemmed from the Trump administration, which decided to move the reporting deadline up from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. President Trump also tried to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census, a move that was denied by the Supreme Court.
President Trump has since issued a memorandum that calls for undocumented immigrants to be removed from the Census count used for reapportioning House of Representatives members among states. A study conducted by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics found that if that memorandum were to be implemented, California could lose two Congressional seats.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the Trump administration’s decision, including one spearheaded by the state of New York and backed by a coalition of states, counties and cities.
The County of Monterey joined that lawsuit late last month. The Watsonville City Council held a special meeting around the same time to determine whether it would join the lawsuit, but ultimately took no action on the item.
“It’s been one battle after the other,” Vides said. “At every level, from our city council members who have been closely monitoring all the steps the White House has taken lately to jeopardize a complete count, to all of us who have been involved in helping our community get counted, it is important that Watsonville residents consider completing the Census form because, at the end of the day, that’s what’s shaping our future.”