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COVID-19 Presents Challenges to Counting WA Children in Census

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020   

SEATTLE -- Census workers are trying to find a way around the challenges presented by the coronavirus, including counting young children. In the 2010 census, 2 million children from birth to age 5 nationwide were missed.

Elsa Batres-Boni, 2020 census adviser for the City of Seattle, said kids sometimes are missed if they're not part of a traditional family structure, such as living with grandparents. Many census workers planned to reach families through in-person events, but that has changed. Batres-Boni said she's working to make sure being part of the census still is a priority for folks.

"Who's going to talk to busy parents, overwhelmed, and to have this conversation? And how are we going to get the message in time? That's the biggest challenge," she said.

She said counting children is important because if they're missed, states can lose out on funding for programs such as Head Start and children's health insurance for the next decade. She noted that the census only takes about 10 minutes to fill out and can be done by phone or online at 2020census.gov.

The Census Bureau has extended the self-response phase through Aug. 14, but the mayor of Seattle wants it pushed through September.

Responses are based on everyone living in the household today, April 1. Deborah Stein, network director for the Partnership for America's Children, said children from immigrant families are the hardest to count because their parents might be afraid to interact with the federal government.

"In this political environment," she said, "the likelihood that immigrant families will not count their young children is much greater, and we're very concerned about that."

Stein confirmed that there is no citizenship question on the census.

Sarah Brannon, managing attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said folks' information is secure, noting that Census Bureau employees take a pledge and face stiff penalties if they violate it.

"It is a confidentiality pledge that you have to take, that you're sworn for life to protect any information you might see during the course of your employment," she said, "and it is punishable up to five years in prison and of a fine of $250,000, or both. So, it is a very serious pledge that they take."


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