Take Five: Stephania Ramirez, Director, Strategic Initiatives

June 23, 2020

Appointed by the State of California as the region’s Administrative Community Based Organization (ACBO), the California Community Foundation (CCF) is responsible for leading and coordinating efforts to get out the census count in Los Angeles County.

The foundation worked alongside community groups for over two years to prepare for one of the most daunting census counts in history – even before the COVID pandemic took hold of our world, forcing the campaign to make a hard pivot to a virtual effort. In addition to serving as a leader in developing outreach strategies, CCF makes grants and provides support to community groups. In this series we will ask five questions of our programs team to better understand the impact of our work and the ongoing needs of community members.

1) Before COVID-19, Los Angeles County faced unique challenges in the 2020 Census. What were they?
With our great diversity, abundance of languages and geographic sprawl, Los Angeles County has long been designated the hardest-to-count region in the nation.

We Count Los Angeles is a campaign encompassing a coalition of over 100 grantee community groups that came together to plan strategies to promote the census to the county’s most vulnerable populations. The biggest concerns were inclusion of a possible citizenship question, suppression efforts and the impact of the digital divide for the nation’s first ever online census. Never could anyone have imagined a pandemic taking place with the stay-at-home ordinance taking place just two weeks before census day 2020.

2) With the convergence of the 2020 Census and the COVID-19 crisis, who are most at risk for being undercounted?
We are seeing that the same demographics that are hardest hit by COVID-19 in Los Angeles County — immigrants, low income Latinos and African Americans, homeless — also mirror those who are low in census response rates.

Additionally, the protests over the brutal murders of Black Americans that continue throughout our communities highlights that an accurate census count of the Black community is a building block of equity. It drives funding to some of the most vital resources in health, education and childcare for that community.

3) As stay-at-home orders went into place, how did organizations adapt their census outreach?
Our coalition quickly pivoted their campaign strategies to an unprecedented virtual effort. Partner groups — many of whom are facing their own organizational challenges of operating remotely — switched to phone banking, texting and digital organizing strategies instead of knocking on doors or other tried-and-true grassroots in-person activities.

They lead Zoom town halls, virtual pastor round tables and phone banking “parties.” They create census Tik Toks social posts and have become experts at creating homemade iPhone videos that serve as digital ads reaching hundreds of thousands of Angelenos. They are also including census information as part of food distribution to thousands of people experiencing food insecurity as a result of COVID-19.

Also, just this week our Census Caravan rolled through hard-to-count local neighborhoods throughout the county. Our partners decorated hundreds of cars, trucks and vans with census information and signs to continue to generate awareness and participation around the census.

4) In the era of COVID-19, why is this year’s census so critical?
The census is perhaps more relevant than ever before given its influence on funding for vital programs and services that impact our most vulnerable communities. More than 60% of census funding goes to public health programs that receive federal funding like WIC, SNAP, Medicaid/Medicare and community health centers. In 2010, Los Angeles County had a significant undercount, which resulted in the region losing hundreds of millions of federal dollars over the past 10 years that could have strengthened our health care system.

5) What is our current census response rate and what can be done to help?
The national response rates sit at 60% and LA County is just over 57.7%. Data from Advancement Project California shows that self-response rates are beginning to stagnate and lag in South LA, Central LA, Northeast and Eastside LA, where the greatest concentration of hard-to-count communities are located. There is no doubt that there is more work to do.

As protests continue to engulf our communities amid a global pandemic, many are asking what they can do during these times. Completing the census is something each of us can do to empower our communities with essential resources over the next 10 years. All of us who live in Los Angeles County — the most diverse region in the nation — can make a difference by taking the census now.

For additional ways to engage and stay informed, visit WeCountLA.org or follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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