Everyone living in the United States counts. But only if you submit your 2020 census form by September 30. 

The census is the once a decade effort to count everyone in this country—from infants to great grandparents. But you cannot be counted if you don’t complete the census form.  

The stakes are high. By not being counted, you’re reducing California’s representation in Congress and are making it more difficult for the State to receive the money we need for public schools, libraries, transportation, MediCal, food stamps, housing, and a wide range of other social and community services—impacts that will be felt for the next 10 years. 

The count began this Spring, when the Census Bureau sent the first of several mailings to every household. By mid-August, 64 percent of San Francisco households, but under 24 percent of the residents of Hunters Point, Bayview, the Mission District and Tenderloin had completed the form. 

In August, census takers began visiting nonresponders. They had planned to start this follow-up effort last May and continue through October 30, but the pandemic got in the way and then the White House moved the deadline from Oct. 31 to September 30. So here we are, less than a month before the books are closed with millions uncounted.

Neighborhood organizations and nonprofits agencies are educating their community about the importance of the census and offering one-on-one assistance to families struggling to complete the survey. Mission Neighborhood Centers (MNC) includes information on the census in their wellness calls and with their food delivery boxes. 

They’ve conducted outreach in the Excelsior and have been leaving information at Mission District residences for seniors and the disabled. For people uncertain how to complete the questionnaire, “We’re advertising our availability to help, whether they want to submit their answers online, by paper, or by phone,” said MNC’s Aging & Disability Resource Specialist, Joana Mattero. 

“They can visit or call us and we can fill out the form with them. We can also help them complete the form online,” said Mattero. 

Because MNC has conducted such rigorous outreach, they’ve been able to reach many of their more active participants. But there are still many in the community who have not completed the form. 

“We’re concentrating our outreach in buildings for seniors and people with disabilities,” Mattero said. “We leave fliers and include information in our food delivery bags. Many are Chinese, so we include phone numbers for Chinese language support.” 

Mission Neighborhood Centers’ Aging & Disability Resource Specialist, Joana Mattero displays a 2020 Census bag at the Capp Street Senior Center. Photo: Benjamin Fanjoy

The fliers remind nonresponders that “every person counted will bring thousands of dollars to our community over the next 10 years for hospitals, public schools, affordable housing, social services, roads and so much more.”  

The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) is posting census information at laundromats and wellness centers and is offering assistance on their Facebook page. 

“But sadly, our communities have a lack of trust in our government,” said MEDA’s Community Leadership Development Manager, Lucia Obregon. “That’s why we’re stressing that the data is secure. We tell them that their participation benefits our community. When they answer, ‘I don’t qualify for any benefits, why should I give this information?’ We tell them there is strength in numbers, our representation is important. We say you need to help tell the real story of the United States—we’re stronger when we all participate. I strongly believe it’s more important than ever to answer.”

But since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the 2020 Census has seemingly lost some of its priority. 

“While it’s not the thing weighing most heavily on our constituents’ minds, we discuss it in our constituent calls and at meetings,” admitted Paul Monge, a legislative aide with Hillary Ronen. “We’re stressing the importance of the census for the community’s long-term well-being.”  

Mission Neighborhood Centers Aging & Disability Resource Specialist, Joana Mattero, poses for a portrait at the Capp Street Senior Center. Photo: Benjamin Fanjoy

The Census takes about 10 minutes to complete. The questionnaire asks how many people lived or stayed in your home on April 1, 2020; whether you own or rent; the sex, age and race of each member of your household; and whether any person is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin. It does not ask for your social security number, political party, bank or credit card numbers, or citizenship status. 

Getting an accurate count of the population has always been a challenge: The 2010 Census missed 1.5 million Black and Latino residents, and one million children. But the leadup to the 2020 Census has been particularly fraught. The Trump administration tried (and failed) to add a citizenship question, a move that immigration advocates say was designed to cause fear and discourage Latinos and other immigrants from participating. 

“I can understand the fear about immigration,” said Marianna Yamamoto from NALEO (a non-partisan organization facilitating Latino participation in the American political process). “But the census does not ask any question about immigration and the census takers are sworn to secrecy. This year we have the strongest confidentiality protections in the history of the Census.” 

For Yamamoto, it’s critical to our community that we get the count right. 

“If you’re not doing it for yourself, then do it for your children and for those that will come after us and continue our legacy,” Yamamoto said. “Your answers will not be shared with ICE, the police or Homeland Security.”

For questions or help in completing the census, contact MNC at 415-206-7752; MEDA at 415-282-3334; or Supervisor Ronen’s office, 415-554-5154. You can also call the Census Bureau at 844-330-2020 for help in English, or 844-468-2020 to receive instructions in Spanish.

You can respond to the census online at my2020census.gov, or submit the form mailed to you by the Census Bureau. If you lost the return envelope, mail the form to Director, U.S. Census Bureau, P.O. Box 5050; Jeffersonville, IN 47199-5050.