Fearing the loss of billions of dollars in federal aid, Los Angeles county and city officials held a rally in downtown’s Grand Park on Monday to urge public participation in the 2020 census.
More than 100 members of community organizations, unions and government agencies stood alongside County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas as part of a nationwide call to action and explained the importance of census funding for local programs.
“We’re talking about a lot of money,” Solis said. “We’re talking about vital services.”
At stake nationally in the upcoming decennial count are nearly $800 billion in federal tax dollars, political redistricting and the reapportionment of seats each state is allocated in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Many of the services people rely on in Los Angeles — such as nutrition programs and housing assistance — are tied to funds from the census, Solis said.
Los Angeles County ranks as the hardest-to-count county in the nation. Hard-to-count areas include neighborhoods with limited access to the internet, those with high concentrations of renters and homeless people, and immigrant communities that may not participate in the census due to language barriers or fear of reprisal by the federal government.
Looming over the event was the Trump administration’s proposed citizenship question and whether information collected by the census could be used against immigrants.
Census workers handed out fliers to attendees and told them their data would be secure. All responses to U.S. Census Bureau household and businesses surveys are kept confidential by law.
Solis said she recognized that the question would discourage many of the county’s 3.5 million immigrants from participating. Still, she emphasized that it “doesn’t matter where you were born” and told the crowd they should not be afraid to participate.
“The 2020 census is the first census that will be done primarily electronically, creating an additional barrier for low-income families and communities of color,” she said. “We will make every effort to count every resident.”
Last month, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked the administration’s move to include the citizenship question, calling the proposal “arbitrary and capricious” and saying it would harm the state of California and be “contrary to the Constitution.”
Political scientists predicted in court testimony that California would lose billions in federal funds, and possibly as many as three seats in the House — and the same number of electoral votes — if the citizenship question were to be used next year.
A federal judge in New York had previously blocked the administration from adding the question, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review that decision. On Monday, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra filed a friend of the court brief in the Supreme Court supporting New York and other states in that lawsuit.
At the rally, Mayor Eric Garcetti called for a “fair, complete and accurate count.”
Each person counted by the census brings in $2,000 to the county, Garcetti said. Should Los Angeles County be undercounted by 1 million people, officials said, it will lose $2 billion in federal funding.
“That’s all we’re asking for, to get our fair share back,” he said. “Money we produced with our labor and our hard work that we send to Washington and that we demand in a democracy comes back to us.”
The mayor said it was important to ensure that “nobody takes that basic right away.”
“In Los Angeles,” Garcetti said, “we refuse to stand by when Washington does not want to count us.”