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Census Count has Implications for Public Health: Health Funding, Programs Depend on Accurate Enumeration

With crucial funding and data on the line, work is underway to make sure the 2020 census count is an accurate one. Among the partners working toward that goal: Public health.

“Everyone deserves to be counted, because everyone matters,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “For me, that’s the most important reason why our public health department got involved — to make sure all people are getting counted.”

Like many health departments around the country, the Los Angeles agency is an active member of its local census committee — the L.A. County Complete Count Committee — which launched in early 2018 to mobilize area partners around the decennial census and engage with historically undercounted and disenfranchised communities. For its part, the health department is distributing information to educate residents on why and how to participate in the 2020 census, with a number of staff trained as official census goodwill ambassadors. In March, when the census’ online questionnaire goes live, Los Angeles residents can get counted using special computer kiosks inside the agency’s many public health clinics.

For public health agencies, census data underscore just about every aspect of work, from research and surveillance to funding levels and policymaking. The data also impact many of the programs that target social determinants of health, such as funding for Medicaid, low-income housing vouchers and food assistance. According to a study published in February 2019 in APHA’s American Journal of Public Health, an inaccurate 2020 count could hinder public health planning efforts, impede work to eliminate disparities, and make it more difficult to respond to novel and emerging public health threats. Click here for more information.

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