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Some Fresnans live in garages, sheds and trailers. They don’t get counted in the census

Fresno likely is missing out on millions in federal funding because Census Bureau records in certain low-income neighborhoods may be excluding up to 6.3 percent of “unconventional” household units where many immigrants and minorities live, a recent report found.

The study’s authors, the Werner-Kohnstamm Family Fund, worked with the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative to form a pilot program that identified housing units not included in the Census Bureau’s master address file in San Jose, San Francisco and Fresno.

Canvassers walked the streets of Fresno from Dec. 18 to Jan. 5 to identify unconventional households, such as attached or converted garages, apartments, sheds and RVs and trailers. They spoke four languages: English, Spanish, Mixteco and Hmong. They focused on alleyways to find signs of life not seen from the sidewalk, such as trailers parked in backyards, satellite dishes and separate entrances to structures behind homes.

In 20 census tracts in Fresno, the canvassers found 606 unconventional housing units. Those units could represent more than 2,000 people, meaning over the last decade Fresno might have missed out on $37 million in federal funding, said Cindy Quezada, who led the Fresno research project.

“The Central Valley represents about one-sixth of California, so therefore, what’s at stake is allocation of around $11 billion a year in federal program funding for the region,” said Edward Kissam, a co-trustee of Werner-Kohnstamm and expert in census undercount research and immigrant and farmworker communities. “Historically, minorities and immigrants have always been undercounted in the census, which disproportionately weakens their political voice and access to services. The families that are most often undercounted are low-income ones that need those services.”

Those services include MediCal, Headstart, free and reduced school lunches, and Child Health Insurance Coverage.

As part of the pilot program, Quezada’s group spoke to 53 immigrants in Fresno, Huron, Madera and Parlier about the census. The researchers found many of the immigrants never participated in the census despite living here for more than 10 years. They also believed the census only was for citizens and didn’t know that information gathered for the census is confidential.

“The most important thing was the fact that people realized how important the census is,” Quezada said. “Their reaction was ‘Wow, why didn’t I know this?…We don’t only want to participate now, we need to.'”

In 2010, research into census coverage in “hard-to-count” areas of the San Joaquin Valley found about 10 percent of Mexican-origin families were undercounted, Kissam said. About half to one-third of the undercount of low-income, minority families is because their homes are not on the census master address list.

“It’s been a historic problem,” he said. “It’s likely to be a bigger problem in Census 2020 than ever before.”

From now until June is a critical time because that’s when the Local Update of Census Addresses process occurs. And, community-based organizations, such as CVIIC, are especially positioned to undertake those efforts in programs like the pilot, which Kissam said is affordable. The pilot cost less than $15,000 to conduct.

“The bottom line is that we have the tools to improve the census count,” Quezada said.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, said the Trump administration has threatened to dramatically shrink the Census 2020 budget. Arambula, who serves on the Assembly Select Committee on the Census, said, thankfully, Gov. Jerry Brown last year approved $10 million in census funding and this year proposed an additional $40 million over the next three years.

Because of recent raids by immigration agents to find undocumented people, community-based outreach will play an important role leading up to the next census, he said.

“Our state has demonstrated that we are a beacon of hope for our immigrant and most vulnerable populations,” Arambula said. “We will continue to work to ensure our communities are protected, and at the same time ensure that we get our fair share of federal dollars to fund much needed programs.”

Brianna Calix
The Fresno Bee

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