Sunday, April 5, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 5

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 25th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 4 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 4

Filling out the census is easier than ever, but COVID-19 closures may affect completion rates

By Malea Martin

For the first time, the 2020 census can be completed online, making it easier than ever to fill out this once-a-decade demographics gauge—which, according to city officials, secures around $2,000 of federal funding for each counted citizen. But as of March 19, some of the main avenues for promoting census completion are affected by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s order to close all nonessential businesses in response to COVID-19.

“We were paying for ads at all of the local movie theaters, before every movie, at both of the theaters,” Santa Maria City Public Information Manager Mark van de Kamp told the Sun. “That was running probably around 100 times per day and getting good exposure.”

The city also paid for local radio advertising, which will continue to run despite coronavirus related closures across the county, van de Kamp said. But in addition to advertising efforts, another key piece of census outreach involved assistance kiosks in local spaces that have now closed to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“We were also going to have tables at the City Hall, in our library, and at Allan Hancock College,” van de Kamp said.

These questionnaire assistance centers and kiosks are manned by a staff member from an outside agency to help locals navigate the census and provide bilingual assistance materials, according to van de Kamp. 

“Given that a lot of places have to close for social distancing, those plans are not going to be taking effect to the extent that they otherwise would have,” van de Kamp said.

To combat the effect these closures could have on census completion, van de Kamp said that the city is working with the local movie theaters to do digital, text message-based outreach in lieu of the originally planned movie ads. On March 20, the Census Bureau also pushed the census deadline to Aug. 14 to encourage completion in light of the spreading pandemic. 

Having also worked on outreach for the 2010 census, van de Kamp emphasized that census completion is far easier this time around because citizens can complete it online, and even on their mobile phones. The Census Bureau sends out mailers to households across the nation, each containing a unique 12-digit code. Each household must enter the code at to access the census. Van de Kamp said the questionnaire contains only nine questions and takes just a few minutes to fill out.

“It’s to make sure that our community gets its fair share of federal funds,” van de Kamp said. “Each person that is counted will be around $2,000 per year in federal funding that comes back into the community. It also has to do with political representation. If there’s an undercount in the city, the county, or statewide … California may lose one to two congressional seats and lose political power.”

Van de Kamp also stated that the census does not ask any questions about citizenship status, as it seeks a true population count regardless of documentation status. 

“The census is safe,” he said. “The information is not shared by the census with any agency.”

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