Orange County Supervisors Andrew Do and Doug Chaffee defended their recommendation to pay several medical clinics to do outreach for hard-to-reach residents for next year’s census instead of the city of Santa Ana and the Santa Ana Unified School District, a decision critics claim was politically motivated.
Do, a Republican, and Chaffee, a Democrat, represent an ad-hoc committee of the board that worked on requests for proposals for the task of reaching hard-to-contact residents to encourage them to fill out census forms, most of whom are in the northern part of the county. Greater participation would translate into more federal dollars.
At stake in the committee’s recommendation is about $240,000 to be doled out to six organizations.
Do and Chaffee told City News Service that politics had nothing to do with it, but Santa Ana Unified School District Board Chairwoman Valerie Amezcua claimed the city and school district were shut out for pushing back on a facility for homeless in Santa Ana.
Do and Chaffee recommended doling out funds to AltaMed Health Services Corp., Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Community Action Partnership of Orange County, Latino Health Access, Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of community Agencies, and Vision y Compromiso.
Amezcua said the city and school district received higher grades on the requests for proposals. Do said the grades from staff only represent one factor when deciding which agencies should get the funding.
“If we wanted to be political we would have kept the money (from the federal government) and did it ourselves,” Do said. “We didn’t take that approach. We put out a RFP because we figured the community organizations that work closely with the community would be in the best position to reach out to those people to fill out the census form and sent it back.”
Hard-to-reach residents, many of whom are immigrants, are unlikely to trust a government agency when filling out a census form because of the fear of deportation, Do and Chaffee said.
“If you are afraid to be counted why would you contact a government agency,” Do said.
“When you have a governmental agency searching for people there is not a lot of trust in that,” Chaffee said. “But the nonprofits do have more credibility with the people we’re seeking to work with.”
Do said his critics are “trying to make hay out of it” because of the upcoming elections.
“This is just political gamesmanship at its best,” Do said.
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido is running against Do for the county board. Pulido did not respond to a request for comment.
Chaffee said he had a concern about Santa Ana’s and the school district’s capacity to reach out to residents beyond their borders.
“It just seemed easier to stay with the nonprofits” because they have more of a regional focus, Chaffee said.
Do and Chaffee also pointed out the city and school district would get their own grants from another source to prod residents to fill out census forms.
“We felt we were augmenting the thing going with the nonprofits,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee said he had “no ax to grind” with the city or school district.
“Santa Ana is not my district,” Chaffee said.
Amezcua argued that the city voted to be a sanctuary city after the election of President Donald Trump, who has tried to crack down on immigration to the country.
“We were one of the first school districts to pass a resolution that ensured our schools were a safe place for our students and families to use,” Amezcua said.
She said it was “quite comical to me” to claim residents would fear the school district.
“Our school sites are among the most trusted in the city,” Amezcua said.
The school board president said the district has 57 “wellness centers” for residents that provide a variety of services.
“To say that we they don’t feel safe to come there that is flat out wrong and Supervisor Do knows that, and if he doesn’t know it that’s sad because we are his constituents and he should know that our schools are considered a safe location,” Amezcua said. “Parents come in and ask for assistance, whether it’s for medical, food, housing, immigration assistance.”
Amezcua said the district’s criticism of the county’s newest homeless facility mostly centered on a lack of outreach to district officials.
Do “never brought us to the table,” she said. “It’s not that we’re against it, but let’s work on it together.”
Amezcua denied Do’s claim of politics.
“I don’t care he’s a Republican or I’m a Democrat,” she said. “I don’t care about any of that. I care about this because this is my community and we are always pushed to the side, and we are a hard-to-count community. For us to participate in the census is so critical. And we can do a good count.”