The 2020 Census – Why Health Care is at Stake

L.A. Care Health Plan and Health Net, LLC

November 21, 2019

Starting in the spring of 2020, the United States Census Bureau will conduct a count of every person living in the country. This massive, constitutionally-mandated undertaking occurs every 10 years and involves extensive planning, billions of dollars in spending and the work of more than half a million people.

The information gathered during the Census can be used by the private sector to determine where businesses should expand their operations, and it has even greater governmental implications as it is used to determine representation in Congress, how federal, state and local district boundaries are drawn, and how federal funding for housing, health and human services will be allocated.

In fact, in 2015, calculations using Census data were used in the distribution of more than $675 billion in funding to 132 federal programs including Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start, Section 8 housing, and many other programs critical for supporting health and well-being, especially among the working poor. In 2016, California alone received $115 billion in federal funding based on census population data. Census data is also used in critical research that helps academic institutions, governments, businesses, and other organizations better understand communities and how they are changing.

And since this count only happens once every 10 years, it’s important we get it right.

Getting both a complete and accurate census count is important for everyone, but is especially critical for the communities that have historically been undercounted. This includes young children, people experiencing homelessness, racial and ethnic minorities, undocumented immigrants, non-English speakers, and many others that call California, and Los Angeles in particular, home. Children birth to age 8 are among the hardest to count. In 2010, 100,000 California children under five years old were missed by the census, which led to reduced resources for programs that are critical for young children and their families to thrive.

In California, 72% of the population, or 29 million people, belongs to a historically undercounted group and L.A. County has the largest hard-to-count population in the entire country. Estimates suggest that California’s population has grown by 2.3 million people and become more diverse since the last census was conducted in 2010. It is estimated that California is at risk of having more than 1.6 million of its residents go uncounted in the 2020 Census. With research suggesting that California stands to lose nearly $2,000 a year for each Californian that goes uncounted, it is critical we work to avoid such a shortfall.

As the two Medi-Cal managed care plans in L.A. County, we serve many of the people living and working in poverty in communities across the county. In our work to ensure our members receive the health care and services they need, we see firsthand how vital programs like SNAP, Section 8 housing, and Medicaid are for improving the health and lives of our members. We also know what a detrimental effect a census undercount would have on the communities we serve. Without an accurate or complete survey of who is living in our communities, representation in government, services, employment opportunities, and so much more will be denied to those who need it most.

L.A. Care and Health Net want to be part of the solution. In addition to educating our own employees about the census and why it is so important to participate, we will be working to share helpful census information and resources with our members. We will also continue to do our part to support the ongoing census mobilization efforts others are leading across the county. 

There is a role for each and every one of us to play in ensuring a complete and accurate 2020 census. Keep an eye out for a mailing in March of 2020 with instructions on how to fill out the census online, by paper, or by phone, based on your circumstances, and don’t wait to complete it. Starting in April, census workers will begin making door to door visits to all residences that have not filled out the census yet. And once you fill out the census, don’t keep it to yourself! Share with friends, family, and coworkers that you responded and encourage them to do the same.

It will take effort from all of us to make sure all of Los Angeles is counted, but we can get it done.

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