SDG Joins More Than 500 U.S. Philanthropic Leaders in Unprecedented Letter: Don’t Cut the Census Short

San Diego Grantmakers has joined forces with more than 500 philanthropic organizations who, alarmed by the ​announcement​ that the U.S. Department of Commerce intends to “drastically cut short” 2020 census operations amid a surging coronavirus pandemic, urged the U.S. Census Bureau not to rush the significant enumeration and data processing that remain unfinished.

“Rushing the census…would hurt a diverse range of rural and urban communities, leaving them underrepresented locally and in Congress and cutting their fair share of federal funding for Medicaid, economic development, child care, schools, road and public transit improvements, home heating assistance for senior citizens, and many more vital services,” reads a letter the philanthropies made public August 5.

The letter reflects an unprecedented consensus among national, state and local grantmakers and philanthropic institutions that have given a total of more than $100 million to help ensure an accurate census.

The administration is planning to end door-to-door census enumeration and self response operations Sept. 30, a full month earlier than it announced when it modified the 2020 census timeline as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States. The philanthropic leaders that signed the letter share the belief that the additional month is needed to complete the count; nearly four in ten households were still uncounted as August began.

“The bottom line is that shortening the census in the face of national public health and economic crises will result in inaccurate data, distorting the true picture of America for the next decade,” said Gary D. Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation and chair of a national philanthropic collaborative to promote a fair and accurate census. “An inaccurate census is not an inevitable outcome. This letter is a nonpartisan plea to the administration to fulfill its constitutional requirement to count every person in America.”

“​State and local funders have supported the 2020 census with a focus on historically undercounted communities, including people of color, low-income and immigrant families, and young children,” ​said Jocelyn Bissonnette, director of the Funders Census Initiative, which supports funders in their get out the count efforts. “Philanthropy has raised its voice at this critical moment because communities deserve to be fairly and accurately ​counted, resourced, and represented.”

In our region, SDG member United Way of San Diego County has been a leader in supporting a fair and accurate count. “The 2020 census has been subject to continuous efforts to prevent a fair and accurate count – particularly of those hardest to count in our region,” Ian Gordon, senior vice president and chief impact officer, United Way of San Diego County and SDG board member and public policy committee co-chair expressed. “The short-term outcome of this news means tremendous stress on already maxed-out community organizations who are working tirelessly to reach those who are most often undercounted and under-represented. The long-term outcome of these compressed timelines could mean millions of dollars in food, housing, and education support lost for our region,” he said.

According to Count Me 2020, while San Diego County has surpassed its final 2010 self-response rate, about 384,720 homes still need to visited by a census taker to count everyone else in-person (or determine if housing units are vacant). This “non-response followup” is an example of what the truncated timeline puts stress on. Imperial County’s self-response rate is 1.0 point behind its final 2010 rate, meaning a greater share of non-responding homes will need to be counted in-person — an especially challenging task now that the Census Bureau has shortened the door-knocking timeframe by 4 weeks.

SDG and its members Alliance Healthcare Foundation, Blue Shield of California Foundation, Silver Giving Foundation, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Dr. Bronner’s Family Foundation have mobilized $390,000 in support of grassroots efforts in hardest to count communities, awarding grants to 19 community based organizations, alongside additional aligned funding from The California Endowment and Price Philanthropies. We encourage you to consider continued or increased support of the organizations working tirelessly to preserve an accurate count, especially in the wake of this latest attempt to impact our region’s resources and representation.

The full text of the letter and list of signatories — including many SDG members — can be found here.