by Devin Chicras
Whether you care about protecting the most vulnerable, attracting new growth, affordable housing, equal representation, funding roads, or emergency preparedness in our community, participating in the 2020 Census can have an impact on all of those issues and more – and every ten years, it’s also been the civic duty of every single person living in the United States since George Washington was President.
⚠️ NOTE: In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Census Bureau is adjusting 2020 Census operations. While census takers may not be following up door-to-door until August (instead of May), it’s still more important than ever to self-respond now so they can avoid your house altogether. Visit my2020census.gov to respond today.
What exactly is the Census? The Census is a simple questionnaire, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, that records every person living at your address on April 1st, 2020. Visit the official Census website for a wealth of resources and information.
Why should I participate? Your responses will help:
- inform where over $675 billion is distributed each year to communities nationwide for clinics, schools, roads, and more
- provide community leaders with vital information to make decisions about building community centers, opening businesses, and planning for the future
- redraw legislative districts and determine the number of seats your state has in the U.S. House of Representatives
What happens if I don’t participate? For each individual who does not respond to the 2020 Census, it’s estimated that their community could lose out on as much as $20,000 from now until the next Census. That could mean a total of $100,000 for a family of five who didn’t respond.
By census law, refusal to answer all or part of the census carries a $100 fine. The penalty goes up to $500 for giving false answers. In 1976, Congress eliminated both the possibility of a 60-day prison sentence for noncompliance and a one-year prison term for false answers.
But the fine could be significantly higher than $100 for purposely avoiding questions. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 effectively raised the penalty to as much as $5,000 for refusing to answer a census question. A census spokeswoman has said, “We view this approach as a last resort.”
…there have only been a handful of prosecutions for noncompliance in the history of the census, and none since 1970.From American Bar Association: “A boycott of the 2020 census could be costly”
When is the 2020 Census happening? In mid-March of 2020, every household will get an invitation by mail. You can respond by mail, phone, or (brand new for 2020) online. Local census takers will assist those who do not respond.
Is my personally identifiable information safe and confidential? Your responses to the 2020 Census are safe, secure, and protected by federal law. There are NO exceptions.
In fact, your answers can only be used to produce statistics. They cannot be used against you by any government agency or court in any way—not by the FBI, CIA, DHS, or ICE. By law, all responses to U.S. Census Bureau household and business surveys are kept completely confidential. No court of law can subpoena census responses.
All responses submitted online are encrypted to protect personal privacy. Once responses are received, they are no longer online.
What questions are in the 2020 Census? You’ll be asked a few simple questions about age, sex, race, number of folks living in your home, and their relationship to you. View a sample copy of the paper Census form.
- The census will never ask for Social Security numbers, bank or credit card numbers, money or donations, or anything related to political parties
- The 2020 Census will NOT have any question about citizenship status
- While you may identify persons in your household as a same-sex partner or spouse, there are no sexual orientation or gender identity questions
- The only options for a person’s sex are “male” and “female” – if you identify differently, the National LGBTQ Taskforce has some suggestions in their guide
Timeline of what will be sent to your mailbox in 2020:
- March 12-20: Invitation letter to respond online to the 2020 census (some households will also receive paper questionnaires)
- March 16-24: Reminder letter
- March 26 – April 3: Reminder postcard
- April 8-16: Reminder letter and paper questionnaire
- April 20-27: Final reminder postcard before Census takers start following up in person
How do I respond to the 2020 Census? The 2020 Census marks the first time you will be invited to respond online—even on your mobile device. You can also respond by phone or mail. The invite you get in the mail by mid-March 2020 will include your Census ID, an online link, and a phone number. If you do not respond, a paper form will be sent in mid-April 2020 (some households may get a questionnaire much earlier if considered to be “less likely” to use the internet).
If you just moved, had a baby, or lost a member of your household on Census Day (April 1), or if you are a college student living in a dorm, have household members deployed overseas or in a correctional facility, or are living in an RV park, hotel, or tent, please check out this resource that explains who to count as part of your home.
How accessible is the 2020 Census? Here are some facts:
- Multiple languages available – The census form will be available in English and 12 additional languages. Videos and guides to the form will be available in 59 languages.
- 2020CENSUS.GOV is a 508-compliant website accessible to people with blindness or low vision, deafness or hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, photosensitivity, and various combinations of these.
- If you prefer to respond by mail but do not receive a questionnaire in your first mailing from the U.S. Census Bureau, you can wait for the fourth mailing, in mid-April 2020, which will include a questionnaire.
- If you have blindness or low vision, you can print a guide to the questionnaire in braille or large print from 2020CENSUS.GOV.
- If you have deafness or a hearing loss, you can: respond to the census using telephone devices for hearing impaired; access video guides to the questionnaire in American Sign Language on 2020CENSUS.GOV; view online videos and webcasts with closed or open captioning; or request a visit from a census taker who uses American Sign Language.
- From May – July 2020, census takers will visit households that have not yet responded. A census taker can assist if you need help completing your form.
- In 2020, the Census Bureau will devote three days (March 30, 31, and April 1) to counting people who are experiencing homelessness, with checks in place to ensure that people aren’t counted more than once.
How can I prepare for and/or support the 2020 Census?
- Join us for our next Community Coffee Hour at Skyway Library on Saturday, February 15 from 10-11:30am, where we’ll be joined by a Census expert who will give us the rundown and answer questions
- Sign the Pledge to be counted and to educate others about the importance of the 2020 Census #CountMeIn
- Follow U.S. Census Bureau on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
- Sign up for email updates and get reminded when it’s time to respond
- Report rumors and misinformation to [email protected]
- The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting to fill hundreds of thousands of temporary positions across the country to assist with the 2020 Census count. The pay in King County ranges from $20.50-$23.00.
If you found this round-up of critically important tips curated especially for our neighbors in unincorporated West Hill (Skyway, Lakeridge, Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill, et al) helpful, consider joining us as a monthly donor – even $5/month goes a long way for our lean all-volunteer nonprofit, and we appreciate every single one of you.
Featured Image: Screenshot from Rock the Vote 2020 Census page