What Will Novel Coronavirus Mean for the 2020 Census?

By United Way of King County, on March 9, 2020 | In News, Racial Equity

The global emergency of the novel coronavirus is already having a significant impact on families, schools, businesses, travel, and everyday life here in Washington. Tragically lives have been lost, and the cases continue to rise. We are grateful for the leadership of Public Health Seattle & King County and the State of Washington during this time, and we are encouraged by the number of people and companies who are supporting efforts to slow the spread to reduce the number of people infected.

At United Way, we are focused on responding to the immediate challenges vulnerable people and organizations in our community face – food, supplies, housing, financial assistance and volunteers. We are also focused on what this could mean in the months to come.

Census and COVID-19 – Yikes!

The 2020 Census launches in mid-March when homes across the country will begin receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census. An accurate count is imperative – it will drive decisions that will affect economic investments in communities in Washington and the weight of its political influence until 2031. For every 100 households missed in the 2020 Census count, the state could lose up to $5.8 million, which would affect the ability to support children, veterans, senior citizens and middle- and low-income families adequately. An accurate count of Washington’s communities will ensure the fair distribution of taxpayers’ funds and political representation.

People experiencing homelessness, recent immigrants, African Americans, young children, and members of the LGBTQ community are among the groups that have historically been hard to count. Budget reductions, disinformation campaigns, staffing challenges and a transition to an online platform will make it even more difficult to have an accurate and complete Census this year. Fortunately, Washington State allocated $15 million to address these concerns, including helping United Way team up with community partners to launch the We’re Here. We Count. campaign.

A major campaign ignited to make sure we have a fair, equitable and just Census 2020 count. And then COVID-19 hit the Seattle region.

Events were planned. Volunteers recruited. Outreach efforts underway. Technology deployed to help people fill out the Census. A major campaign ignited to make sure we have a fair, equitable and just Census 2020 count. And then COVID-19 hit the Seattle region.

In accordance with recommendations from Public Health, many events have been canceled, including our Census Day Community Resource Exchange that would have helped more than 2,000 people experiencing homelessness. Many of the places where Census outreach would occur are temporarily closed or moving online – churches, colleges, community gatherings, tax sites. Our campaign is adapting by moving our work online, leveraging texting and phone banks, and finding creative ways to raise awareness, but we are worried about those who need help.

But the concern doesn’t end there.

The Census Bureau has a goal of hiring 500,000 Census takers to count people experiencing homelessness, those living in group quarters and eventually going door to door to visit the homes of those who didn’t respond earlier. We believe that COVID-19 will present significant challenges to this effort. We urge our members of Congress to work with the Census Bureau on contingency plans. We can’t afford to let this virus impact efforts to have an accurate and complete Census.


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