Sonoma County, local nonprofit seek to boost census participation

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Sonoma County has partnered with United Way of the Wine Country to boost participation in the 2020 census among historically under-counted residents in the county, including Latinos, children and renters.

The county agreed to undertake the task in late January, when it accepted $100,000 of about $90 million in state funds earmarked in the 2018-2019 budget for a California-wide census education and media campaign.

Data collected by the U.S. census plays a crucial role in apportioning both representation and resources, as it is used to determine the allocation of about $675 billion in federal funding distributed to states and local governments each year. That includes funding for programs such as the early childhood education program Head Start, to grants for food and shelter after emergencies.

States and local governments lose out on $20,000 annually in federal funding for every person not included in the census, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Last year, 42 percent of the Sonoma County’s budget was made up of state and federal money.

“This is so important because Sonoma County receives millions of dollars in federal funds to assure services continue to the residents who need it most,” Supervisor Susan Gorin said at a Friday news conference.

The state has also tapped United Way of the Wine Country to help Sonoma County, and six other Northern California counties, connect with community organizations that work with hard-to-count populations.

Locally, that effort will culminate with the creation of the Sonoma Complete County Committee, a volunteer board that kicked -off on Friday, said Lisa Carreño, the president and CEO of the United Way of the Wine Country. The committee will convene local leaders and community organizations to help the county develop strategies to best reach and motivate people least likely to participate in the federal survey, Carreño said.

Among the groups who have historically been underrepresented in the census include immigrants or foreign-born people, who make up 16.6 percent of Sonoma County residents; renters, who account for roughly 40 percent of the county’s occupied housing units; and certain minority populations. About 26 percent of the county’s residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.

“The census is where equity starts in our community,” Carreño said. “If we can’t count our community, we can’t represent our community.”

Gorin noted the destructive wake of the 2017 fires, which eliminated more than 5,300 homes in Sonoma County, may pose a significant challenge for census -workers, as it may be harder for the Census Bureau to track people that have moved to new addresses.

Another concern was whether the controversial addition of a citizenship question to the census, an effort backed by the Trump administration, would deter undocumented individuals and their families from participating. The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the legality of the question on the census and a ruling in the case is expected in June.

“It’s certainly a real issue for the immigrant community and a real issue for their families,” Carreño said, adding the county previously estimated about 25,000 people are undocumented in Sonoma County. “The presence of that question will have a chilling effect on the accuracy of our census.”

Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, which has a high Latino population, and a portion of northwest Santa Rosa along Highway 101 and Guerneville Road were both designated as being the most likely to pose a challenge for census -takers in Sonoma County, an interactive map by the state shows.

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