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Editorial: Don’t let President Trump erase L.A.'s population and power

Census
Invitations to complete the 2020 census have been mailed out. The new deadline to submit the completed forms is Sept. 30
(U.S. Census Bureau)

Have you filled out your census forms yet?

There’s less than two months left to complete the census, and Los Angeles is woefully undercounted so far. Unless that improves, the region could receive fewer federal dollars than it is entitled to for such vital services as affordable housing, public schools and job training, and fewer representatives in Washington, D.C., to fight for L.A.’s interests.

This year it’s especially vital for Los Angeles to step up. President Trump has been trying to hijack the 2020 census for political advantage since he took office, waging a cynical campaign to depress the count in the urban, Black, Latino and immigrant communities that have been Democratic strongholds.

Trump was unable to add a citizenship question to the census, but his attempt appears to have depressed the response rate. Advocates say one reason that some residents haven’t filled out their forms is that they’re afraid to give the government information about their family. In reality, census responses are confidential and can be used only to compile demographic statistics. Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing individual responses with other government agencies.

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Last week the Trump administration took one of its most cynical steps yet. Just days after former Census Bureau directors told Congress that the U.S. should push back the census deadline to help ensure an accurate count, the Trump administration announced that it would end census data collection earlier than planned. The bureau had said it would collect forms until Oct 31. Now it’s stopping on Sept. 30.

The pandemic has already held back the census workers who knock on doors to gather information from households that haven’t yet submitted forms. That work, which was supposed to start in April, will begin in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

They have to cover a lot of ground. So far, 60% of households in L.A. County have filled out the survey on their own; by the end of the 2010 count, 69% had. The situation is more worrisome in the city of L.A., where just 53% of households have completed the census so far. In 2010, some 68% of households filled out the forms themselves.

Community-based organizations are making a last-ditch effort on a shortened timeline to reach the hardest-to-count households, particularly in low-income and immigrant communities, where residents may not be familiar with or trust the census or may be unable to submit the forms online. Also, these are often communities of essential workers who have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Filling out government forms may not be a top priority as a pandemic rages through their neighborhood.

That’s all the more reason we need an accurate census count, so social services will get enough funding in the communities of greatest need. City, county and school district agencies should incorporate census outreach at every point of contact — from food grab-and-go centers to school supply pickups to COVID testing sites.

But the responsibility for an accurate count shouldn’t fall on locals alone. Congress needs to intervene and push back the deadline for submitting the final count. There is no good reason to rush. The nation shouldn’t let the president’s political gamesmanship jeopardize the reliability of the census.


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