Census in the Time of COVID-19

The 2020 Census has faced many challenges —the attempt to include an untested citizenship question, delays in funding, and now the untold impact of COVID-19. Now that the deadline has officially extended, where does that leave our region’s efforts? We’re bringing you an update on how our region has mobilized and how we continue to evolve our response to ensure an accurate count, particularly of those hardest to count.


The deadline to complete the Census has been extended by three months, now going through end of October. Currently how the count of unsheltered homeless individuals will take place is unresolved.


In California, philanthropy has mobilized over $26 million in the past two years to support Census 2020. Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) has been overseeing the California Census 2020 Statewide Funders’ Initiative that strives to count the hard-to-count populations, as well as support a robust movement infrastructure to improve opportunities for historically marginalized Californians. We are in regular contact with the Governor’s Office and regional and statewide funders to ensure effective communication and coordination and that resources flow throughout the state to areas that are most at risk.

Since mid-2018, San Diego Grantmakers has worked in close partnership with the region’s community-based organizations and government outreach efforts. SDG Vice President of Collaboratives & Special Initiatives Megan Thomas serves on the 2020 Census Complete Count Stakeholder Working Group for Region 10, convened by SANDAG, and coordinates regularly with the United Way of San Diego County and organizing committees at Count Me 2020.

SDG spearheaded a philanthropic fund to complement the state’s financial support and in February 2020, the Count Me 2020 Census Fund made 19 grants totaling $390,000, funded by Blue Shield of California, Silver Giving Foundation, Alliance Healthcare Foundation, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Dr. Bronner’s Family Foundation. Of those funded, 15 organizations work in San Diego (88% of funds) and 4 work in Imperial County (12%) to conduct outreach with hard to count communities. Funding supports grassroots organizations and civic engagement hubs. What could not have been predicted when these funds were dispersed is that these outreach organizations are also those closest to their community members monitoring and providing support during this time of health and economic crisis. Their Census capacity is offering a vital boost to their ability to remain active.


As of April 20, San Diego County’s response rate (56%) is outperforming our overall state response (52%) and nationwide response rate (51%). But looking closer at the numbers, it’s clear that response rates vary by city and some are sitting well below the state and national averages, including those with high concentrations of hard to count individuals. Imperial County is well below benchmarks at just 42% participation.

For perspective, in 2010, the rates were 72% in San Diego and 67% in Imperial. We still have a long way to go to reach a goal of exceeding previous counts, especially since those remaining are also the people who would most benefit from personal face to face outreach from a trusted source.


Person to person outreach – a hallmark of effectively counting hard to count communities – is limited if not non-existent in the era of COVID-19. Instead, outreach is moving to phone, text and online methods. There are some very creative solutions emerging including online dance parties, Census watch parties, safety masks emblazoned with Count Me 2020 stickers and more.

At the same time, outreach is offering an opportunity to check in with folks. Many of the reasons people are less likely to complete the Census are also causing them to be hardest hit by COVID-19, whether a language barrier, lack of access to broadband internet, or being elderly or unstably housed, so the conversation about Census is also presenting a critical opportunity to check in on mental health, food security and more.


A complete and accurate Census amid a global pandemic requires nimbleness, flexibility, and innovation from funders and grantees alike. To this end, we encourage funders to:

  • Work with grantees to revise current grants, reporting timelines, and other requirements.
  • Provide emergency funding for Census outreach.
  • Encourage digital organizing and outreach.
  • Share tools and resources from other Census leads (here are some of our go-to resources: 1//2//3//4//5).

As organizations respond to the evolving needs of our communities, we also urge you to consider increasing, extending, or investing for the first time in the Census. Learn about how the philanthropic community is taking action and tracking Census progress by reaching out to the Funders Census Initiative.


As the nation grapples with the coronavirus, we are reminded of the myriad critical roles government exercises in our lives. Thus, in the midst of the challenges of coronavirus, the imperative to support public involvement in the upcoming redistricting processes continues.

The state’s decennial redistricting determines how communities are represented in public decision-making bodies across all levels of government. Thus, redistricting has implications for the public policies and resource allocations in education, health care, housing and numerous other arenas affecting people’s lives.

Philanthropy California’s Fair Representation Fund supports community engagement in California’s upcoming redistricting processes. The Fund supports statewide and regional nonprofits to engage Californians from historically underrepresented communities, particularly those from communities of color, to weigh in on how they are represented in the decade ahead. This is a critical phase of work that builds on the extraordinary efforts to achieve an accurate Census in California.