Census caravan car
Goleta has been working with community partners on census outreach, including the Santa Barbara County Promotores Network. Mundo Diaz, whose mother, Josefa Rios, is part of the organization, drove a car in the city’s census caravan on July 11. (Jade Martinez-Pogue / Noozhawk file photo)

Many census-related outreach events have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but local response rates are still meeting or exceeding the 2010 numbers.  

Pedro Paz, co-chairman of the Santa Barbara County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, said census workers are doing door-to-door visits to people who have not yet responded, wearing protective gear, and flooding areas with lawn signs and door signs. 

“We didn’t anticipate doing this when we started. We were thinking about doing questionnaire assistance centers, kiosks and things like that. All that was ready to go and then COVID-19 hit, and we couldn’t do any of it,” Paz said.

The stakes for a good response rate are high. The estimated financial impact of not responding is $2,000 per year, per person, for 10 years, which is $20,000 of federal funding lost for each undercounted person, according to the county committee.  

Census counts also matter for political representation, since district boundaries — and the number of congressional representatives per state — are based on population.  

As of Wednesday, Santa Barbara County reported a 68.2 percent response rate, compared with 68.5 percent in 2010.  

Responses are still growing, months after initial mailings went out, so outreach efforts appear to be working.

How Goleta’s Outreach Campaign Helped Boost the Response Rate

Goleta’s efforts have resulted in the highest local self-response rate so far, with 73.4 percent as of Wednesday.

Census caravan handouts

Sandra Rodriguez helps with Goleta’s census caravan. (City of Goleta courtesy photo)

Kelly Hoover became the community relations manager and public information officer for Goleta last August, and census outreach was one of her first projects.

“I took that assignment seriously and really wanted to knock it out of the park with a campaign that would resonate with Goleta,” said Hoover, who previously worked as a PIO for the Sheriff’s Department.

Hoover, Jaime Shaw and Sandra Rodriguez, who also work in the city manager’s office, created the Make Goleta Count! campaign.

“What we have found in Goleta is that there’s just so much pride in this community,” Hoover said, and the campaign tried to capitalize on that.

Messaging from the city about the census (and there was a lot of it) focused not just on the local benefits of filling out the census — significant amounts of federal funding — but the cost from not participating.

Beyond newsletter messages and social media posts, Hoover’s team created commercials to run at gas stations, and advertised in local media. They also mailed 16,308 informational postcards to local residents, installed light post banners throughout the city, and organized a “census caravan” car parade.

“It was just joyful and fun, and it was a great way to show people our enthusiasm and keep that community pride of how important it is to fill out the census, and what it means for Goleta,” Hoover said.

The city partnered with community organizations to spread the message farther, and passed out fliers and census-printed swag when it could. 

State grant funding of $22,740 has paid for the mailers and other related costs, Hoover said.   

Goleta census campaign

Goleta created census-branded swag for its Make Goleta Count! campaign. In-person events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but organizers plan to unload pens, stickers and other items at the local library and food distribution sites in the last month of the response period. (City of Goleta courtesy photo)

“We have a month left, and in the final month we are going to be aggressive with our outreach,” she said, adding that the effort will include new commercials for Spanish-language radio stations and direct phone calls to Goleta residents who signed up for the notification system. “Really in this past month we’re trying to reach that final group that just hasn’t responded yet, and we don’t know who they are or where they are exactly, but we’re hoping that we can see that number climb.”

Local Self-Response Rates So Far

The countywide response rate as of Wednesday was 68.2 percent, higher than California, which reported 65.8 percent.  

 2020 Response Rate to Date2010 Final Response Rate
Santa Barbara69.5%69.5%
Santa Maria63.5%68.4%

Some areas are considered “hard to count” for various socioeconomic reasons, and populations considered hard to count include neighborhoods with high-density housing and renter-occupied units, households with children younger than age 5, households with non-high-school graduates, and households with residents who speak limited English, according to the local census committee.

It’s important to count all children in the household, even babies, Paz said, and pregnant women should count their expected child if the due date is before Sept. 30.

“If they show their face by the end of the reporting period, then yes, count them,” Paz said.

Paz said outreach strategies for hard-to-count residents include targeted messaging on the radio and social media, and the census caravans to remind people to participate.

“We were driving by people who were saying, ‘Yeah, I filled it out!’ That’s great, but I want to hear from people who haven’t filled it out,” said Paz, who participated in the Goleta caravan.

Information on Filling Out the Census

Providing information for the 2020 U.S. Census takes about 10 minutes, and can be done online, at my2020census.gov, or by phone (844.330.2020 for English, and 844.268.2020 for Spanish), and guides are available in dozens of additional languages available online by clicking here.

Census workers are beginning to go door to door to reach people who have not responded yet, wearing protective masks and gloves, and they all carry identification. 

Residents can verify that identification online at census.gov/cgi-bin/main/email.cgi.

Census workers will ask for the number of people who lived in the home on April 1, 2020, and additional demographic information about each resident, including age, race, gender and relationship status, according to the county.

They will not try to enter anyone’s home, ask for Social Security or banking information, or solicit money for any organization.

The county website, SantaBarbaraCountyCensus.org, has more local information about census information, deadlines, and specific information for college students

The original deadline for responding to the 2020 U.S. Census was Oct. 31, but the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced it was moving it up one month, to Sept. 30.

Editor’s note: Census workers recently started door-to-door “non-response follow up” visits. An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that census workers would not conduct as much door-to-door outreach this year due to the pandemic. 

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.