San Jose Assemblymember Kansen Chu pushes for Census participation
Assemblymember Kansen Chu stressed the importance of the census survey to a crowd of San Jose Berryessa residents. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

San Jose Assemblymember Kansen Chu kicked off 2020 with a topic that counts: the census.

A few dozen community members gathered Saturday afternoon for a town hall at Berryessa’s Summerdale Elementary School to hear details about the upcoming 2020 Census, which is set to begin in March, from census officials. The informational event included PowerPoint presentations followed by a quick Q&A session for attendees.

Berryessa resident Nga Lê, a retired travel consultant, first heard about the census through mail she received about the town hall and decided to attend on a whim.

“I came to listen and to understand,” Lê, 65, said in Vietnamese. “To figure out whether to do (the census) or not.”

After the event, the answer is a “yes.” The census is “beneficial,” Lê added.

California needs “100 percent participation” in the 2020 Census, said Chu, who is leaving Sacramento to run for Santa Clara County supervisor. Losing one person means losing thousands in critical federal funding for the next ten years, the legislator said.

Even a slight undercount can be detrimental to programs that support school lunches, highway upkeep, affordable housing, child care, among others. Santa Clara County could stand to lose $2,000 per year in federal funding for every person who is not counted, officials said, and the county could even lose political power by losing a congressional seat.

“California could lose out on a lot of funding and seats in Congress,” Chu said. “Regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, everyone needs to be counted. I am urging all Californians to be active in helping our community get the resources we need by participating and getting as many people as you can to complete the 2020 Census.”

Running the 2020 Census successfully is not without its challenges, said Nick Kuwada, the manager of Santa Clara County’s Complete Count Committee. Anxiety has spiked in immigrant communities, he said, as residents are reluctant to talk to government officials following a politically-charged debate last year over adding a citizenship question to the survey.

“There’s been a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the current administration. There’s a lot of fear,” Kuwada said. “We’re working through Kansen Chu’s office and a number of our elected officials to make sure that we are interacting with our community so they know the importance of the census.”

The national climate isn’t the only hurdle: California’s own housing crisis makes the unhoused population a “hard-to-count” community. Other historically hard-to-count residents include immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and women.

Specific subcommittees have been formed to work with hard-to-count populations, Kuwada said, with the committee for the unhoused working directly with service providers in the area. But the hope is for community members themselves to advocate for the census and reach out to their friends, families and neighbors.

“Hard-to-count is in your backyard,” Kuwada added. “When you go out into the community, we want to prepare you… they don’t listen to us, they listen to you.”

Other speakers at the event Saturday included Berryessa Union School District Superintendent Roxane Fuentes, U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Specialist Raymond Mueller and California Complete Count Regional Program Manager David Tucker.

Gulrez Kerawala, 63, attended the town hall with his wife from Fremont. He came as a volunteer and wanted to be “involved” and “inspired.”

“I’m an example for my children,” Kerawala said. “If I don’t do this, they wouldn’t know the value of the census.”

In addition to educating residents on the importance of answering the survey, officials are also hiring thousands of temporary workers to serve as census takers.

If you are interested in working for the 2020 Census in Santa Clara County, click here.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at the.loananh.lede@gmail.com or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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