Article I of the U.S. Constitution lays down some of the bedrock principles of American democracy: the passage of laws, the powers and structure of the legislative branch, and the census.
The framers didn’t just give the government the power to do a national head count. It required that the population must be counted every 10 years.
Like most of the founders’ ideas, this one has stood the test of time, from 1780 to 2020. Even now, amidst a pandemic that’s turned our lives upside down, it’s crucial that we respond to the census.
An accurate count helps each community get the resources it deserves. Census data determines the allocation of public funds for schools, health care, transportation and child care. Nonprofits cite it when applying for grants doled out based on the respective needs of different communities.
People are also reading…
For every uncounted person, the community loses out on $19,500 worth of funding over the next 10 years, according to Jenny Ocon, executive director of the UpValley Family Centers. If 200 Napa County residents are uncounted, that translates into almost $4 million in lost funding.
Census data also informs the drawing of legislative districts. At the county level, where the political center of gravity keeps drifting south, an undercount Upvalley might accelerate that trend and further diminish our political clout. At the state level, an undercount might cost California a congressional seat.
Napa County, local cities, and various community organizations that are promoting the census stress that it is safe, secure and confidential.
Despite some early talk about a citizenship question, the census doesn’t ask about citizenship or immigration status. It also doesn’t ask for identification, Social Security numbers, or financial information. If someone claiming to be from the census asks you for any of that, it’s a scam.
Census data is released only in the aggregate, so respondents needn’t worry about immigration authorities, landlords or anyone else getting hold of their personal information.
The census is based on individual households. Every person living at an address needs to be counted, even if there’s more than one family in the same home.
Mailers have gone out to all residential addresses, but not to post office boxes. The United Way is sending its own census reminders to post office boxholders. If you know someone who gets their mail exclusively through a post office box, make sure they know about the census and get counted.
The next census mailers will be sent in mid-April. If you don’t get one, or if you want to be counted right now, go to 2020census.gov. It won’t take you more than 5-10 minutes.
Based on past censuses, the most difficult groups to count are children age 5 and under, immigrants, low-income residents, and the homeless. This time around, with more of the census taking place online, we also need to do our best to count older people who are less technologically inclined.
So far St. Helena’s response rate is 45.4%, a bit higher than the national rate of 45.1%. The deadline to be counted has been extended to August, but we’d love to see our response rate get up to 100% before then.
Does St. Helena have enough small children to get our federally funded Head Start program back? What will our supervisorial and congressional districts look like in a few years? Will the city of St. Helena get its fair share of federal and state funding? Will our nonprofits win the grants they need to serve our community?
If you want an equitable future, then stand up and be counted.
The Star editorial board consists of editors David Stoneberg and Sean Scully and community volunteers Norma Ferriz, Shannon Kuleto, Bonnie Long, Peter McCrea, Chuck Meibeyer, Gail Showley and Dave Yewell. Ferriz works for the UpValley Family Centers, which is helping promote the census.