YWCA Urges Census Bureau: Drop the Citizenship Question

Categories: Advocacy, Racial Justice

YWCA San Francisco & Marin submitted the following comments to the Census Bureau opposing the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Click here to submit comments as an individual or organization by Tuesday, August 7.

YWCA San Francisco & Marin strongly urges the Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census form.

A full, fair, and accurate census is particularly important for communities at the greatest risk of being undercounted – including people of color; young children; those who do not speak English fluently; lower income individuals; homeless youth and adults; undocumented immigrants; individuals who identify as LGBTQ; and those living in rural areas. People of color and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who fall into multiple categories of hard-to-count communities are especially vulnerable to being underrepresented.

YWCA San Francisco & Marin serves many of these hard-to-count communities. Over 95% of our clients are low-income and many are immigrants and people of color. In the most expensive housing market in the country, we provide affordable housing for high-risk, low-income seniors, many of whom have fixed incomes well below the market rate rent for even a studio apartment in San Francisco, and would therefore face homelessness without the support we provide through federal HUD funding. We see every day the high and growing rate and risk for homelessness in our community, and the urgent need for an accurate count to adequately allocate federal responses.

As has been widely reported, inclusion of the proposed citizenship question will jeopardize the fairness and accuracy of the of the 2020 count by deterring individuals from hard-to-count communities from responding to the Census. The Census Bureau’s own National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations noted that the shared experiences of discrimination and unequal treatment among racial and ethnic groups lead to distrust of government and apprehension about responding to federal questionnaires, which contributes to undercounting of racial and ethnic subgroups. The addition of a new citizenship question that is untested for a decennial census is widely expected to exacerbate this distrust and apprehension, thereby jeopardizing census accuracy by deterring many individuals from communities of color—many of whom are disproportionately represented among low-income and other hard-to-count communities—from responding.

Given the precarious situation that survivors of domestic and sexual violence face when they leave their abusers and the life-or-death consequences they face if their safety is compromised, many are reluctant to share information about who and where they are for fear of being discovered by their abuser. Inserting a citizenship question into the context of fear and uncertainty that survivors of domestic and sexual violence face has increased concerns about the privacy and security of the information that is collected and will only exacerbate the reluctance of survivors of domestic and sexual abuse to participate in the 2020 count, and the reluctance of community service providers to play their critical role as trusted figures to help encourage census participation among this vulnerable group.

We are also concerned about the impact that including a citizenship question will have on the non-profit sector that provides shelter, safety, and support to these hard-to-count groups, who are among the most vulnerable in our communities. A Census undercount negatively impacts federal funding allocations for a wide array of domestic and sexual violence, child care, housing, nutrition, health, and other critical programs and services. This will leave non-profit organizations and public service agencies without the resources to address the scope and severity of need in their communities.

YWCA San Francisco & Marin is particularly concerned about the impact this will have on our senior housing, food bank, and workforce development programs. YWCA San Francisco & Marin depends on an array of federal funding to meet these needs in our community, including critical HUD funding that prevents homelessness for over 100 San Francisco seniors who live in our affordable apartments.

Moreover, many of the women, girls, and families who participate in our programs rely on federal programs that depend on an accurate Census count for funding, including the Head Start and Early Head Start Programs; the Child Care and Development Fund; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Medicaid; the Women, Infants, and Children program; and the Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers program.

With fewer resources allocated to communities hardest hit by the predicted undercounts, which we fear may only become more severe in the 2020 census, the tremendous strides that have been made in meeting their needs will be jeopardized, with life-long implications for their health, well-being, and economic security.

A full, fair, and accurate census is absolutely critical for our community. For the reasons discussed above, we strongly oppose asking about citizenship status in the 2020 Census and urge the Department of Commerce to remove the proposed citizenship question from the data collection forms. Please contact Laura Eberly, Director of Social Change at (415) 971-6753 or laura@ywcasf-marin.org if additional information or clarification is needed.