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County officials urge response to 2020 U.S. Census survey

Answers confidential and secure

OW Staff Writer | 5/22/2020, midnight

Census responses are kept confidential, District Attorney Jackie Lacey reminded residents this week in urging them to complete the 2020 census to ensure that Los Angeles County gets its fair share of federal funding.

“Under current census laws, your responses are kept confidential and may only be used by the government to produce statistics,’’ Lacey posted on Twitter.

The Census Bureau is barred by federal law from releasing any identifiable information about an individual, household or business, even to law enforcement agencies. Violations of the law are punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000. Census employees are sworn to maintain the confidentiality of all data for life.

The bureau is gradually restarting field operations, temporarily suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. This week the bureau added 11 more states and Puerto Rico to a list of locations where work is resuming. California is not yet on the list.

The decision to restart operations in any area is based on federal, state, and local public health guidelines, according to the bureau.

Historically, a robust and accurate census response has relied on community outreach and door-to-door visits by census takers. In the earliest phases of the bureau’s restart, census field staff are canvassing rural areas where many households may not receive mail and leaving census questionnaires without making personal contact with any residents.

Census forms were mailed out nationwide in March, and residents can also opt to complete the short survey online at 2020census.gov using an identification number provided in those mailed materials. Residents also have the option of answering questions by phone at (844) 330-2020 or, for Spanish speakers, (844) 468-2020. This option is also available in many other languages and a full list can also be found at 2020census.gov.

Los Angeles County was lagging slightly behind California and national response rates as of May 16, with roughly 56 percent of residents answering the questionnaire, compared with about 60 percent of Californians and Americans nationwide.

The effort to count every American informs the allocation of federal funding for any number of critical programs, as well as congressional representation.

About $12.7 billion in federal funding for Los Angeles County is based on census-related estimates, according to a UCLA study released in March.

The study released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science estimated that a 10-percent count could cost the county $586 million in federal dollars.

The researchers also warned of the likelihood of a Latino undercount that could result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

The study’s authors said “anti-immigrant’’ language and policies, along with a proposal to add a citizenship question that was ultimately struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, have fueled fears about deportation and put immigrant groups, especially Latinos, at risk for being undercounted in the census.