Fill out the census to secure funding, political representation

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Tired of the bus making you late? Fill out the 2020 census. The connection between the census and UC Berkeley students’ distrust in AC Transit’s reliability may not be entirely clear but hear me out.

We all know census data is used to take a headcount across the country, determining how we allocate funds and political representation, but where is this funding going? How and where does this political representation shift every 10 years? How do UC Berkeley’s international and study abroad students fit into this equation? How does the COVID-19 crisis impact census efforts?

While financial aid — such as Pell Grants and Cal Grants — is funded by the state and federal government, census data is utilized to allocate funds for these grants, allowing low-income students to afford to go to college. During the 2017-18 school year alone, $43 million in Pell Grants allowed for 8,684 students to study at UC Berkeley. Since Pell Grant recipients constitute 27% of UC Berkeley’s undergraduates and are more than twice as likely as other students to have student loans upon graduating, filling out the census could not be more important within the context of ensuring accessibility and affordability in higher education.

In a similar sense, the allocation of funding for social welfare programs, such as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as CalFresh in California), is dependent on census data. It is clear that food and housing insecurity is a prominent issue on campus and across the UC and CSU systems. A 2016 survey found that 44% of UC undergraduates and 26% of UC graduate students face food insecurity, and 5% of UC students experience homelessness while studying at UC.

We must continue to pressure the UC Board of Regents and state and federal officials to prioritize basic needs and affordability for students and workers across the UC system; filling out the census is an easy and tangible step we can all take to ensure student wellness on campus and beyond.

Similarly, public transportation, such as AC Transit buses, relies on funding allocated by census data. This includes State Transit Assistance funds, which allocated $27 million to AC Transit in its 2018-19 budget and $38 million of BART’s 2019 budget. In addition to lobbying our local, state and federal officials to prioritize public transportation, we must do our part to improve public transit in the Bay Area.

In the context of political representation, census data also allows the government a foundation for redistricting based on population, which then determines how many members of Congress each state has, which in turn determines the number of votes states have in the Electoral College.

California is projected to maintain its 53 congressional seats, but 1.6 million Californians could be missed, causing California to lose a seat and an electoral vote. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California’s most undercounted residents are children, Black and Latinx residents, young men and renters, with nearly three-fourths of Californians belonging to one or more of these historically undercounted populations. If these communities are undercounted again, political representation will shift away from low-income communities and communities of color.

Wondering how you fit into the campus census efforts? Ensure your friends, including international students, are counted with their Berkeley addresses, even if they have gone back home or have been displaced because of COVID-19. If your family members have already completed the census with your information included, simply submit the census questionnaire again with your Berkeley address; you will not be counted twice, as the Census Bureau has advanced ways of catching duplicates. Additionally, the census questionnaire deadline has been extended to Oct. 31, making our goal of a 100% completion rate attainable.

While it may not seem like you should fill out the census with your Berkeley address, especially since you may be back home or somewhere else for the time being, UC Berkeley students for the next 10 years are depending on census data from our responses. In other words, funding for Pell Grants, basic needs programs and public transportation for community members and UC Berkeley students to come is dependent on our decision to fill out the 2020 census with our Berkeley addresses.

As students in a college town, we actively use resources that could benefit community members whose families have lived here for decades. By filling out the census questionnaire with your college town address, you are not hurting your hometown but rather doing your part in a community where your presence contributes to gentrification and the housing crisis.

It is vital that the entirety of UC Berkeley’s student population works together to ensure #CalCounts.

Finally, here are some basic tips for filling out the census form. First, everyone is sent a unique census code via mail. If you lost this code or simply did not receive it, click the “If you do not have a Census ID, click here” option online.

Second, some people do not feel comfortable answering the race or sex questions, as the questions and provided answers are poorly worded and not inclusive (i.e. the sex questions consist of only two options: male or female). You can technically skip whichever questions you do not feel comfortable answering, but there is a chance the Census Bureau will think you did so accidentally and contact you.

And third, if you live (or lived, before the COVID-19 crisis) in an apartment with other individuals, try to complete one census questionnaire for the entire household, including each housemate’s full name, birthday and more.

Naomi Garcia is a UC Berkeley sophomore and incoming ASUC senator.