Half of Napa County residents eligible to get financial assistance for groceries are Latino, according to the Latino Community Foundation. More than half of the 20,000 students in Napa County schools are Latino and OLE Health, one of the county’s largest health care providers, says six in 10 of its patients are Latino.

Funding for those food, education and health services and others that serve Napa County residents is at risk if some fail to fill out the 2020 Census, the national population count conducted every 10 years by the U.S. Census Bureau. The county said it stands to lose nearly $20,000 for each person who goes uncounted.

That’s why local organizations that serve Latinos — a demographic group that’s considered hard to count — are ramping up outreach efforts to educate residents about the 2020 Census and the damage that could result from an undercount. To spread the word, the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation is teaming up with North Bay nonprofits, including UpValley Family Centers, which provides information and services to residents of northern Napa County.

Latinos are “here to say, ‘I want my money back,’ and make sure we get our money and our rights to political representation,’” said Christian Arana, policy director for the foundation. “We’re not going anywhere, so we might as well fill out the Census.”

‘An uphill battle’

For some, the Census can be intimidating. People living in overcrowded housing may be worried that their landlord will find out about unapproved tenants. The Supreme Court at least temporarily halted efforts to add a question about citizenship to the Census form, but some immigrants may still be spooked.

For the first time, the Census Bureau will be mailing people a code to take their survey online. Organizers worry that will prove an additional barrier for people with limited internet access or familiarity with technology.

“It’s an uphill battle for us to engage people in this effort, but we’re committed to it,” said Jenny Ocon, head of UpValley Family Centers.

Ocon also chairs a subcommittee on reaching hard-to-count populations for the Napa County Complete Count Committee. The county has accepted $100,000 from the state to educate the public on the Census.

To combat fear that others can get access to a person’s Census information, the Latino Community Foundation is planning to distribute materials that explain how federal law protects their information.

One of the ways volunteers hope to educate people on the importance of Census is by “draw(ing) a simple, clear line that the things we enjoy and make our community strong” are partly thanks to money that’s allocated based on Census data, Ocon said. That includes roads, health clinics and child care centers.

At least 20 community organizations that serve Napa County have been meeting regularly for the past several months, strategizing how to best overcome barriers for different hard-to-count populations, Ocon said. The biggest undercounted population is children 5 years old or younger.

The subcommittee has been conducting interviews with the public on their beliefs about the Census to figure out how to focus outreach messaging. Members have heard from immigrants who mistakenly believe the American Census process is like that of their home country, she said. They’re also trying to determine how beliefs about and experiences with technology could affect someone’s experience with an online Census questionnaire.

Census outreach volunteers are trying to get creative. They might hold social events where people can also learn about the Census or produce short videos of people talking about why the Census matters to them, she said.

Organizers are focused on getting “trusted messengers,” such as family members, teachers, churchgoers or elected officials, to spread the word about the Census, Ocon said.

“With most things, word of mouth is what’s going to move people to act,” Ocon said.

UpValley Family Centers has tapped a group of local volunteers, known as Promotoras, to educate their neighbors and share why they personally believe the Census is important. Arana of the Latino Community Foundation said the organization is looking to recruit North Bay Census enumerators — the Census employees who follow up in person with households that haven’t taken the survey — because it’s important that familiar faces fill such roles.

The 2020 Census may not be top of mind for many resident, but Ocon hopes that other grassroots organizations will pitch in to help reach the people in their spheres of influence.

“Everybody deserves to be counted,” Ocon said. “It will make our community stronger.”

Anyone interested in getting involved with Napa County’s Complete Count Committee can email Mary Booher, assistant county executive officer, at mary.booher@countyofnapa.org. Anyone interested in getting involved with Ocon’s hard-to-count subcommittee can email her at jocon@upvalleyfamilycenters.org.

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Public Safety Reporter

Courtney Teague is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She can be reached at 707-256-2221. You can follow her reporting on Twitter and Facebook, or send her anonymous tip at: tinyurl.com/anonymous-tipbox-courtney.