The U.S. Census Bureau has developed an intense outreach campaign to ensure non-English-speaking residents participate in the 2010 population count, a strategy inspired in part by San Francisco officials’ concerns over minority residents being overlooked, the federal census director said today.

In early March, 300 million U.S. residents will receive a letter from Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, explaining the importance of the census and advising residents that questionnaires will soon arrive in the mail.

The letter also contains sections in Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Russian and Spanish, directing people to Web sites in those languages that provide assistance on completing the Census.

The non-English sections were added in September, a “just-in-time decision” two days before the letters were due at the printer, Groves said at a news briefing in San Francisco today.

He spoke alongside City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who raised public objections in August to the letter’s original version, which did not contain any Asian languages.

Herrera today praised the “commitment that we received from the director to have a continuous dialogue” about increasing the accuracy of the city’s census count.

Groves in turn thanked San Francisco officials and immigrant advocates for “leadership that will help national efforts.” Herrera and Chiu’s objections helped prompt a re-examination of multilingual outreach after Groves took office in July, said regional census outreach coordinator Sonny Le.

In addition to creating an accurate portrait of San Francisco’s diverse residents, census counts play a major role in determining how much federal funding the city receives. San Francisco has a major economic stake in making sure non-English-speaking residents fill out their 10-question census forms. According to current census data, about 327,000 San Francisco residents speak a language other than English.

Chiu cited a city-funded study that found the 2000 census undercut the city’s population by as many as one out of eight residents. This led to $30 million less each year in federal funds, he said. He also noted that residents are required by law to fill out census questionnaires.

The city has set aside $900,000 to ensure an accurate census count, he said.

Meanwhile, the federal government will spend about $300 million nationwide to target ethnic communities that data suggest are underrepresented, according to Groves. While 21 outreach workers were stationed in Northern California in 2000, the area will have more than 200 this time around, according to the regional census center.

Census forms will be mailed out mid-March and followed up with a multi-lingual reminder card shortly thereafter, Groves said. The postcard will also contain wording in six different languages, and provide toll-free phone numbers offering language assistance.

Residents can request census forms in five languages, and census assistance guides in nearly 60.

Census workers will open language assistance centers in some neighborhoods, and regional teams will identify neighborhood newspapers, community centers, and any other appropriate means to spread the word, according to Groves.

“We tailor the technique to how the community interacts,” he said.

He also hopes the program will assuage any fears that Census collectors will use personal data to affect immigration laws. It is illegal for the Census Bureau to share individual data with other federal agencies or people, he said.

Groves, who joined the Census Bureau in July, said he did not know why the letters were not initially planned as multi-lingual. The advance letters for the 2000 census contained information in five different languages.

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