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Step Up and Be Counted: Why the Census Matters for Seniors

Last week, San Diego Seniors Community Foundation hosted a training session with United Way of San Diego County to teach senior service providers how to assist their clients in completing the 2020 Census. Michele Silverthorn of the United Way and SDSCF’s Joe Gavin led the session, which included presentations from Isabel Lemus Goyre of the U.S. Census Bureau, Susan Henderson of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and Kim Heinle and Rose Ceballos of the Bayside Community Center. Attendees came from all corners of San Diego County, representing several local senior centers, senior-focused nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.

Why are we concerned about seniors?

Silverthorn opened the session by introducing the Count Me 2020 campaign, which receives funding from the U.S. Census Bureau, California Census Office, and local county governments to conduct outreach and education to help ensure “hard to count” populations are represented in this year’s census. Why are seniors considered hard to count? Henderson explained that, in previous years older adults were among the best counted populations, but this year’s census is different. For the first time ever, the census will be conducted primarily online, which presents barriers to seniors who may not have access or be comfortable using the internet.

Why is the census important?

Lemus Goyre explained that census counts are tied to federal funding for things like roads, hospitals, schools, police, Medicare, SNAP benefits, housing, unemployment insurance, and more. The census also determines the number of congressional seats each state gets. For every person who isn’t counted in the census, California loses between $1,000-$2,000 per person per year in federal funding for the next decade. That’s why it’s crucial that every resident who is alive on April 1, 2020 gets counted.

How will the census work?

You will receive an invitation to complete the census in the mail between March 12-20. The invitation will include instructions for how to complete the census online. Translation services are available in 59 languages. If you haven’t completed the online form by April 8, then you’ll receive a questionnaire in the mail – so if you don’t want to do it online, then just wait for the paper form to arrive. People living in group quarters such as nursing homes will be counted by office staff. If you’re not sure whether your facility is counting you, be sure to ask! The last day to complete the census form is July 31.

What questions will the census ask?

The census asks how many people are living in your home; the name, age, race and sex of each person and how they’re related to you; whether you own or rent your home; and your telephone number. The census will NOT ask about your income, financial/bank information, social security number, employment status, citizenship/immigration status, criminal record, or use of public assistance.

How to Avoid Scams

Scammers will use the census as an opportunity to target seniors, so it is important to be vigilant. If a census taker comes to your door, be sure to check for a U.S. Census Bureau photo ID badge with a Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. A legitimate census taker will never solicit money or donations, ask you to support a political party, threaten jail time, or ask for sensitive information such as your social security number, bank account or credit card numbers. This helpful guide from AARP has additional tips you can use to stay safe while taking the census.

How can I help the seniors in my life get counted?

If you work directly with seniors or are a caregiver to a senior, be sure to talk to them about the census. Ask them if they’ve completed it yet. If they’re not sure, then have them take it again. As Lemus Goyre explained, we don’t have a double-counting problem, we have an undercount problem; the Census Bureau has an extensive quality assurance process to remove duplicates, so there’s no harm in taking it twice.

Try to understand the barriers that may prevent the seniors in your life from completing the census. If they are concerned about privacy, explain that the information is confidential and cannot be used against them in any way. If they feel it’s not important, remind them that the census impacts funding for programs that benefit not only seniors, but also their children and grandchildren. If they struggle with technology, help them get online to complete the questionnaire so they can be counted.

If you work for a community center or other organization that has an older clientele, then consider hosting an information session of your own to familiarize senior clients with the census. Count Me 2020 offers an extensive library of resource materials, and the #DisabilityCounts2020 campaign has a helpful older adult toolkit with additional tips and resources to support your outreach efforts.

Watch the Video

If you missed our training but still want to learn more, you can watch a complete video of the session on Count Me 2020’s Facebook page. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Isabel Lemus Goyre of the U.S. Census Bureau speaks at a training session for senior service providers
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