2020 Census Mailers: Explained

(Megan Garvey / LAist)

The coronavirus is shaking up everyone's schedules, but one schedule remains the same (at least for now): As of mid-March, households across the U.S. have begun to receive mailers inviting them to participate in the 2020 census — the nation's official headcount. There's already been some confusion about census mailers, thanks to a deceptive RNC fundraising mailer sent out a couple weeks ago, so we thought we'd clear some things up.

Now that on-the-ground canvassing is on hold, households are being strongly encouraged to fill the census out online. Internet and paper questionnaires can be completed in 13 languages. All census mailers will also include a sheet with toll-free numbers in the same 13 languages. Respondents can call these numbers to ask questions, or to give their census answers over the phone.

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau has created tailored videos and language guides for completing the census online.

If a household does not respond to the first invitation to fill out the census form, the notification process can continue to late April with up to five mailed attempts. Respondents must complete the questionnaire by April 30 if they don't want to have an enumerator come to their door. The last day to respond to the census is July 31.

All communications from the U.S. Census Bureau will be through the U.S. Postal Service only. However, residents can respond to the census online, or by phone or mail.

WHAT TYPE OF MAILER WILL I GET?

While most people are getting mailers asking them to respond online, there are two types of mailers going out, depending on an area's response history. The U.S. Census Bureau divides census mailers into two main categories: Internet first, and internet choice. Depending on the area, some households may also receive a bilingual version in Spanish.

Want to know what type your census tract will receive? Click here. (Interestingly, it can also tell you what side of L.A.'s digital divide you live on.)

WHAT IS 'INTERNET FIRST'?

An "internet first" area is a census tract that is likely to complete the census online based on previous data, such as high broadband access. On the first round of distribution, these tracts only receive an invitation letter to complete the census online.

The majority of households in L.A. County will receive this type of mailer.

WHAT IS 'INTERNET CHOICE'?

An "internet choice" area is a census tract that did not have a majority respond previously to census tests online and are likely to continue not to. This happens in areas with lower internet usage, higher elderly populations, low broadband subscribership or fewer English speakers, according to the 2020 Census Operational Plan.

Multiple areas in L.A. County will receive this type of mailer, according to census data.

WHEN ARE THEY SENT?

The first census mailer is sent out between Mar. 12 and Mar. 20. This includes the letter invitation to respond online to the 2020 Census. Certain households will also receive a paper questionnaire.

If there is no response:

  • Mar. 16-24: Households will receive a second reminder letter to participate in the census.
  • Mar. 26-Apr. 3: Households will receive a reminder postcard to respond.
  • Apr. 8-16: Households will receive a third reminder letter and paper questionnaire.
  • Apr. 20-27: A final reminder postcard before census enumerators follow up in person. So if you don't want anyone knocking on your door, it's best to fill it out on your own by this time.

WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE?

Census mailers will never have a person's name, and will always start with, "Dear Resident." Letters will be signed by Steven D. Dillingham, who is the U.S. Census Bureau Director.

A prominent box in the center will explain the response methods available for the mailer (internet choice or internet first), and will list the household's unique census ID number. The website for submitting the census response is https://my2020census.gov/.

The U.S. Census Bureau or U.S. Department of Commerce will be in the return address. It will also have one of two return destinations listed — Jeffersonville, IN or Phoenix, AZ.

To verify if more census communication or representatives are legitimate, click here.

L.A. COUNTY OUTREACH TO UNDERCOUNTED COMMUNITIES

The United Ways of California provides discounted broadband access for residents that meet their eligibility requirements, and is focused on providing internet access to hard-to-count communities for the 2020 Census. Residents may qualify for access as low as $10 a month, according to Paola Hernandez, the census program manager of United Ways of Southern California.

Got questions about the 2020 census? Ask us here.