Avalon’s Census response could affect city finances

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Response rate reported at 7.5% as of Wednesday; the national rate: 49.1%

So far, only a fraction of Avalon residents have responded to the 2020 Census. This is potential bad news for Avalon’s financial well-being.

One apparent factor in the response rate to date is the fact that the Census Bureau doesn’t deliver to post office boxes. In the meantime, the Census Bureau had to suspend field operations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This has affected the national count, but also gives Avalon time to be counted.

According to both city officials and the U.S. Census Bureau, the results of the Census have a direct impact on funding local programs.

Response rates

As of Wednesday afternoon, April 15, the Census Bureau webste reported Avalon’s self-response rate at 7.5%.

Los Angeles County’s response rate, as of this Wednesday: 45.4%.

California’s: 49.8%.

Nationwide: 49.1%.

Those rates were still accurate as of Thursday morning, April 16.

Why is this important?

“Results of Avalon’s residents responding to the 2020 Census has a direct correlation for funding of many valuable community resources: school lunch programs, education, medicare, health care, infrastructure projects and much more,” wrote Mayor Anni Marshall in an April 16 email.

“Residents should in no way be concerned with their participation. There are no citizenship questions, or other items that might concern those who are undocumented,” Marshall wrote.

“Currently the percentage of residents responding is around 7%. We are at the bottom of the poll by far. Should you find you are unable to complete the 7 minute questionnaire reach out to a friend or call the city of Avalon for assistance. Go to 2020census.gov and get started,” Marshall wrote.

The Islander asked Avalon Finance Director Matthew Baker, “What’s the potential financial impact on Avalon if the response rate doesn’t improve?”

On Wednesday, April 15, Baker emailed a statement from the city that said, in part: “From a local finance perspective, accurate census figures are critical to ensure that the City of Avalon receives its proportionate share of funding distributed from Federal, State, and County governments to improve local infrastructure and provide services to our residents and visitors.”

(For the complete text of the statement, see page 3.)

“The loss of visitors in response to the pandemic makes these revenue sources even more critical to maintain infrastructure and services while visitor revenues are impacted,” according to the statement.

According to the 33-page 2017 Census report “Uses of Census Bureau Data in Federal Funds Distribution,” the uses of Census data have grown over the past two centuries. One example the report cited was the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program.

The city of Avalon statement cited the same example. “As an example of some of the projects impacted by the Census, the City recently used Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, which are allocated based on Census data, to contract with a local vendor to make curb cuts and other access improvements for City streets and sidewalks,” according to the statement.

“Without accurate census information, the City would have to rely on other local revenue sources to offset lost revenues in order to continue to maintain infrastructure and fund these operations,” according to the Avalon statement.

About Post Office Boxes

According to the Census Bureau’s Frequently Asked Questions page, the agency doesn’t cannot mail to P.O. Boxes because they cannot be matched to physical addresses. We need your physical address to count you at the place where you live. Only a complete street address will help us accurately count you in the right place. If you cannot receive mail at your home, a Census Bureau worker may deliver a questionnaire, leave information about responding, or interview you. You can respond now by phone or online at my2020census.gov.”

During her Wednesday, April 15, “Minutes with the Mayor” broadcast, Mayor Marshall encouraged residents to participate online. “Now is the time to sign up,” she said.

She said you don’t need to enter the ID# referenced on the Census website.

Census field operations suspended until June

The COVID-19 crisis has compelled the Census Bureau to adjust how it gathers information for 2020. The agency suspended field operations in March.

“Steps are already being taken to reactivate field offices beginning June 1, 2020, in preparation for the resumption of field data collection operations as quickly as possible following June 1,” according to a joint statement from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham. The statement was issued April 13.

According to the Ross and Dillingham statement, the agency is asking Congress to give the Census Bureau 120 more days to count the population. The plan, if approved, would extend the deadline for field operations and self-responses to the Census to Oct. 31.

Avalon’s Census response could affect city finances