Census outreach organizers fear missing
people and dollars in Ventura County

This article was originally published on VC Star and can be found here. 

Organizers are trying to raise more than $1 million and mount a major campaign to reach Ventura County residents likely to be missed in next year’s federal census.

“It is going to take all hands on deck,” said Mike Pettit, an assistant county executive officer who is working on the effort.

The county ranks among the top 2 percent of a little over 3,000 counties in the nation most at risk for being undercounted, according to a state study. That’s not only because of income, educational and geographic barriers, but also because many people lack internet access for the survey that is being conducted largely online, organizers said.

Each uncounted person represents an estimated loss of $2,000 annually for 10 years, said Vanessa Bechtel, CEO of the Ventura County Community Foundation. If more than 100,000 people are missed, that represents a loss of billions of dollars for health care, social services, law enforcement, business loans, water systems, transportation and other services, she said.

Statewide, the census count also dictates how many seats California gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bechtel and Pettit said strong efforts are underway to get a complete count.

City and county governments, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations are being asked for funding to supplement state grants that local officials say will only partially cover the cost of the outreach campaign. Scores of organizations have joined a committee that is trying to turn out a complete count, Bechtel said.

“We have a huge complete count committee with over 100 participants from government, business, nonprofits and libraries,” Bechtel said.

Early this month, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors decided to support the outreach effort, allowing the county to receive $288,754 in state funding. Ventura and other participating counties must prepare plans showing how they will conduct the outreach effort, complete written reports and collaborate with state officials.

Pettit plans to return to the board with a budget proposal for county funding of the endeavor in March. The census date is a little more than a year away on April 1, 2020.

Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett has called the state funding “woefully inadequate” for the task ahead. The amounts the county and cities will be contributing is not yet known.

Areas with a high likelihood of being undercounted include south and central Oxnard, a large area northeast of Ventura along Highway 33, Santa Paula, Fillmore, CSU Channel Islands and Newbury Park.

The high-risk areas are characterized by factors that have been linked with low counts in past censuses, according to state data. Included are neighborhoods with crowded, rented and multi-unit housing, numerous families with children under age 5 and homes with low levels of education and relatively high use of public assistance.

Residents of certain neighborhoods in Oxnard and Santa Paula lack the computer technology that will allow them to respond to the census online, Bechtel said. The figure reaches 40 percent in some neighborhoods in Oxnard, she said.

Still unknown is whether the census will include a question asking respondents if they are citizens of the United States, which critics fear would depress participation by immigrant communities. The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide whether the Trump administration may add the question.

Volunteers interested in working on the complete count effort may email Bechtel at vbechtel@vccf.org.