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Community Organizers Turn Census Calls into Coronavirus Welfare Checks

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Community organizations making phone calls to remind historically undercounted Inland Empire residents to take the census have adjusted their scripts to include a coronavirus welfare check. 

Italia Garcia, knows it must be strange to get a phone call from someone you don’t know asking you how you are.

“Sometimes you know, people are not very receptive to that, but for the most part people have been very very receptive to our calls," says Garcia.

Garcia, is a regional coordinator for a coalition of nonprofits called Census Inland Empire whose goal is to encourage historically undercounted groups to take the census. The plan was for her organization, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, to canvas neighborhoods by foot. But when the coronavirus shutdown came, they quickly adjusted by making phone calls from home, and by changing their approach.

"We needed to be mindful, that people were not, you know, the community and your average day to day people, the top of their priorities and their concerns was not the census,” says Garcia.

The disadvantaged communities and communities of color they were trying to reach have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. So when the team of 12 phone bankers started making thousands of calls a day, they decided to approach it as a friendly neighborhood chat to say, hey, we really hope you take the census, and also, here are some coronavirus resources for the area.

"They trust us even more than they did," says Garcia. "They understand we are a legitimate organization that cares not just about the census but the overall wellbeing of the community.”

Unlike scams, they never ask for personal information. Instead they give out details on food banks, financial resources, and immigration information for those who need to understand their rights.

There is hope that the campaign has been successful since both Riverside and San Bernardino County are on track to surpass the 2010 census response rates.