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Some Bay Area census offices are reopening after coronavirus closures; response rates still below 2010 count - The Mercury News

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau will reopen several Bay Area field offices it shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, which also put a stop to most census outreach and forced a months-long delay for the 2020 count.

Starting on Memorial Day, field offices covering most of Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties will reopen to allow census staff to drop off a questionnaire at any home that doesn’t have a traditional mailing address — that’s mostly in rural areas and places that rely on P.O. boxes.

“We leave it somewhere visible on the property, it’s usually in a weatherproof bag,” said Joshua Green, a media specialist with the bureau. “We want people to get that physical packet so they know they can still be counted.”

Field offices in San Francisco and Alameda counties will remain closed because they don’t have any households scheduled for the questionnaire packets, Green said. The field office jurisdictions don’t align exactly with county boundaries so parts of Alameda County are under a reopened office, while parts of Contra Costa County are under still-closed offices.

This portion of the 2020 count originally started on March 15, and census workers were able to get through about a fifth of households before operations were paused. There are 11,887 households still waiting to get a census packet in Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, Green said.

The reopenings come more than a week after census enumerators were originally scheduled to start going door-to-door at households that have not yet responded. That’s not expected to start until August 11, and the deadline to respond to the census has been pushed back to October 31. Experts hope the later deadline will help boost response rates, which so far are lagging behind the final self-response rates during the 2010 count.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, whose district includes parts of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, said he’s optimistic about the count and said that while the Bay Area is behind the 2010 rates, organizations working on boosting those numbers have been finding ways to adjust to limitations on outreach because of COVID-19.

“California is a big, bold, beautifully diverse state and in so many ways that diversity is our strength,” Berman said. “But when it comes to the census, it’s a big challenge.”

As of Thursday, 70.6 percent of households in San Mateo County have responded to the census, followed by 69.5 percent of households in both Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, 67.3 percent of households in Alameda County and 58 percent of households in San Francisco. In California as a whole, 61 percent of households have filled out their questionnaires, higher than the 59.9 percent national average.

“Considering we’re the hardest-to-count state in the country, it’s good, but we obviously want to do better,” he said.

At stake could be political representation — California is at risk of losing one congressional seat after the 2020 count — as well as billions of dollars in federal funding, according to State Treasurer Fiona Ma. Federally-financed programs like food stamps, affordable housing and Medical are affected by census response rates, she said.

More recently, Ma pointed at the federal CARES Act relief bill that sent money to states to help them cope with the COVID-19 crisis. The state government got $9.5 billion from the act, with another $5.8 billion going to 21 cities and counties in California with at least 500,000 residents.

“How did they get that number?” Ma said. “They got that number from the census.”