This article has been updated.

San Antonians can expect to see a big advertising push about the 2020 census later this month. 

Since the City of San Antonio and Bexar County formed a complete count committee in April, committee members have been strategizing how best to reach every single San Antonian. Berta Rodriguez, the City’s census administrator, said she has been meeting with different groups and stakeholders to ensure they target historically undercounted populations.

“Households with children under five is key,” Rodriguez said. “In 2010, we had an undercount of about a million children under the age of five across the country.”

According to the Texas Demographic Center, the state received $59.4 billion in federal funding three years ago as a result of data collected from the 2010 census. That money went toward housing, transportation, education, and health services in Texas. An undercount would mean less federal funding for Texas and the San Antonio area.

“An undercount of 1 percent [in the state] could equate to about $300 million a year for 10 years,” said Dwayne Robinson, Bexar County census liaison.

Local census officials are especially concerned because 2020 is the first census that will rely primarily on internet self-response. Gone are the days where paper forms were available at local libraries and handed out at schools. People will have to either fill out a form online or call the Census Bureau to give their answers over the phone, Rodriguez said. Some census tracts will receive paper forms.

“For example, if a census tract has a high population of seniors, that mail-out will have a paper form,” Rodriguez said. “Sending them an invitation to fill out a form online probably won’t get the response we need.”

The Census Bureau will never call, text, or email people for their information, Rodriguez stressed. 

“You will never get asked for information like social security, banking information, license information, status information,” she said. “It is a short form, nine questions. We will also never ask you for a donation. We’ve already seen mailouts from [political action committees] that look like census forms and at the end say, ‘Make a donation.’”

There are more than 40 complete count committees listed in the San Antonio area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of the suburban cities in Bexar County, as well as higher education institutions such as Trinity University and Texas A&M University-San Antonio, have their own complete count committees.

Robinson said he has been working to ensure Bexar County can coordinate with different outreach efforts across the county.

“We have met with each of the cities, and they are working with us to help with the complete count effort,” Robinson said.

The state government has not allocated funding for the decennial census, making Texas one of the states that have neither established a state-run complete count effort nor put money toward it, according to the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Meanwhile, California is spending $187 million to push its residents to participate in the census.

Both Rodriguez and Robinson acknowledged the lack of state funding but said the local government’s complete count efforts does not change with or without state resources. The County has put in $100,000 toward outreach efforts, including advertising materials and some part-time staff, Robinson said. The City invested $394,000 toward outreach and marketing, as well as two full-time positions for census-related employees, Rodriguez said. That doesn’t include the time other City employees put toward census outreach, she added.

“I’ve got a war room,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve got about six sheets of different things [on the wall] that are happening … We’re weeks away from this being activated. You’ll start to hear media from the [Census] Bureau come into market mid-January.”

Not only does an accurate count of San Antonio-area residents ensure that more federal funding will be made available over the next 10 years, it also dictates seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Texas stands to gain two or three seats in the House after the 2020 census.

“We need our residents to understand the importance of it,” Rodriguez said. “We need them to feel they are a critical part of ensuring our future for the next 10 years and that’s by participating in this census count.”

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the San Antonio Report.