By Jack Mayne

The City Council heard at their monthly study session Monday (Nov. 25) the general plan for Burien’s participation in the U.S. Census, which allows the city access to various federal financing programs.

Census day, mandated by the Constitution, starts on April 1, said local Census official Francesca Abellera. Every person in the nation must be counted, citizen or not.

Abellera is a census partnership specialist, who works with community-based organizations to raise awareness about the 2020 census.

Response needs to improve
In the past, several areas of Burien did not respond but she said efforts are being made to increase the response rates, especially in lower economic zones of the city.

Abellera said the Census needs to hire “thousands to just to do the operations … nonresponse followup is going to be the largest and most expensive operation so if we could encourage folks to really fill out the census on line, and to do the self-response we can save on taxpayer dollars.”

She asked the Council if they could help the Census recruit staff.

“We would like to hire from the community, we prefer people who work where they live, so they know their community best and look like the people they are enumerating. We are encouraging people to apply now.

Hire some non-citizens
Normally the federal government has to hire U.S. citizens. “However, during peak operations, they make an exception, so the Census Bureau is able to hire non-citizens as long as they are eligible to work in the United States and they pass a background check and there is a need for a specific language, they can hire non citizens,” Abellera said.

In the last census, she said the response rate in the entire Washington state was 76 percent, “surpassing the national average of 73 percent so we were able to gain one congressional seat.”

Another reason for strong participation in the census is because federal funds are distributed on a population basis, Abellera said.

“The state and our communities can receive up to over $675 billion of federal funding each year for the next 10 years,” Abellera said.

1.5 million newcomers
A census document provided to the Council said “over the next 30 years, the Puget Sound Region will add more than 1.5 million residents, growing from approximately 4.2 million in 2020, to 5.8 million by 2050.”

During the last census, in 2010, only a traditional paper form was used, but this time census forms can be filled out three ways, she said. “residents have the option if filling three ways, online, by telephone … and still the traditional paper form.” Field workers will have mobile computer devices to speed the collection of information.

No citizenship question
Abellera said a “citizenship question” is not on the form, contrary to some national news reports, and the forms have already been printed and can’t be changed before distribution next March.

On census day where the person was counted is important. “Residence is defined as the place where people live and sleep most of the time. People away from their usual residence, on vacation, business trip, working elsewhere without usual residence are counted where they live and sleep most of the time,” Census documents say.

Information not shared
Abellera said all of the information that is collected is protected by federal law “and stays confidential for 72 years. I don’t know why they chose 72 years…by law we cannot share information with any other federal agencies, not ICE, not immigration services, not Social Security, not Homeland Security, no one. We are not allowed to share information. All Census Bureau employees take a lifetime oath not to share information.”

All employees of the Census and those working with the bureau all take the confidentiality very seriously, she said, adding the penalty is five years in prison, $250,000 in fines “and/or a combination of both.”

She noted that people’s responses to the Census cannot by law be used against them in Court. The Census telephone system will have 12 languages available for helping callers, but the paper questionnaire will be printed in English and in Spanish to be sent to households in areas where there is a large Spanish speaking population, such as Burien.

Abellera said 95 percent of households will be asked to respond with their census data online and the first set of mailings will be March 12 to March 20 and will invite people to respond on line. The Census on line portal will open on March 23. If people have not responded by the fifth reminder notice, there will be a Census enumerator sent to the home as a start to a non-response followup.

“At the end of everything, Dec, 31, 2020, all of the results, everything has to be to the President, whoever will be in office by December 2020. Then March 31, 2021, all of the aggravated data will be available to the public.

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.