LOS ANGELES – The 2020 census forms can be filled out online as of Monday – and experts are warning that California is at serious risk of an undercount, particularly of children under age five.
In the 2010 census, it’s estimated that California missed counting one million children. Jessica Berthold, communications director with the First Five Association of California, says the state could lose out on a huge amount of federal money if families ignore their census forms.
“Estimates are that if we had an undercount in 2020,” says Berthold, “it could cost California up to $115 billion every year in federal programs like Medi-Cal, Headstart, WIC, school lunch program, etc.”
Next week, households will receive mail that contains their Census ID number. It should then only take ten minutes to fill out the form, which can be done by phone or online at ‘2020census.gov.’
Deborah Stein, network director with the Partnership for America’s Children, says children from immigrant families are the hardest to count, because their parents might be afraid to interact with the federal government.
“In this political environment, the likelihood that immigrant families will not count their young children is much greater,” says Stein. “And we’re very concerned about that.”
By law, however, the Census Bureau cannot share anyone’s identifying information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or any other government agency.
Sarah Brannon, managing attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, says census workers also face severe penalties for privacy violations.
“It is a confidentiality pledge that you have to take, that you’re sworn for life to protect any information you might see during the course of your employment,” says Brannon. “And it is punishable up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or both. So, it is a very serious pledge that they take.”