August 2020 Census Project Update


Policy mostly overtook funding as a focus for census issues in August.

While the House passed census funding for Fiscal Year 2021 as part of a minibus package at the end of last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee has not moved forward on any of their appropriations legislation. With the looming end of the current fiscal year, Congress will likely need to agree upon a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government by the end of September. That CR may well be combined with another coronavirus relief legislative package. Final action won’t happen until much later in the year—potentially, not until after the November elections during an expected “lame duck” session.

Meanwhile, supplemental appropriations for the 2020 Census in the here and now are also stuck in limbo. While the House approved $400 million in May as part of their COVID relief package, the Senate has yet to act on their counter-package, introduced last month.

Policy Updates

Back on April 13, 2020, in a joint statement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Director Steven Dillingham announced that, “[i]n order to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau is seeking statutory relief from Congress of 120 additional calendar days to deliver final apportionment counts. Under this plan, the Census Bureau would extend the window for field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020, allowing for apportionment counts to be delivered to the President by April 30, 2021, and redistricting data to be delivered to the states no later than July 31, 2021.” President Trump publicly supported the request, telling reporters, “The Census Bureau recently made the decision to temporarily suspend its field operations, data collection activities, to help stop the spread. In addition, while millions of Americans continue to complete their questionnaire online, the Census Bureau has asked for a 120 [day] extension. I don’t know that you even have to ask them. This is called an act of god…I don’t think 120 days is nearly enough.” (quoted in The Hill, 4/13/20)

At the end of July, without explanation, the Department of Commerce abandoned this earlier request to Congress to push back the 2020 Census statutory reporting deadlines, forcing the Census Bureau to rush through remaining counting operations and curtail vital quality check and data processing activities (even though the national self-response rate at the start of the door knocking operation was the lowest ever, and the number of homes to visit in person the highest ever.)

A lengthy blog post from the Population Association of America (PAA) explored some of the broader political context.

Census stakeholders expressed alarm:

Former Census Directors John Thompson (2013-2017), Vincent Barabba (1973-76 and 1979-81), Ken Prewitt (1998-2001), and Bob Groves (2009-2012) released a statement on August 4 about the importance of extending the 2020 Census’ statutory deadlines and establishing “predetermined quality metrics” to assess the final numbers.

Thompson further warned in a radio interview that “it’s going to be very hard to add substantially more staff than they were currently planning to add” to meet the Administration’s new goals for the rushed 2020 Census. “[T]here’s just not much time.”

Congress got involved, too. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (D-AK) joined Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and other Senate Democrats in a bipartisan letter on August 11 urging Congressional leaders to extend the statutory reporting deadlines to give the Census Bureau “adequate time” to complete the decennial headcount. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) sent their own similar letters.

Stakeholders more broadly organized to encourage efforts to #SaveTheCensus.

Other Census News

  • Oklahoma State Representative Brad Boles (R-51) recently wrote in the Duncan Banner encouraging rural Oklahomans to respond to the 2020 Census.
  • “This is all about letting people know you exist”: A recent article in USA Today highlighted the August 6 Census Project stakeholder letter to Senate leaders urging a provision in the next coronavirus relief bill to delay the statutory reporting deadlines for census data.

Census Bureau News

  • The U.S. Census Bureau is informing households that they may also receive a follow-up visit to ensure everyone is counted in the 2020 Census.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau announced the new 2020 Census User Experience Survey to measure how satisfied respondents were with the online 2020 Census questionnaire.
  • The Census Bureau is releasing daily 2020 Census housing unit completion rates including the 2020 Census self-response & Nonresponse Followup completion rates.
  • The Bureau released a presentation that provides partners, stakeholders and the public updates on the 2020 Census Operational Plan. “The review illustrates some of the ways we are adapting our operations to ensure a complete and accurate count by our statutory deadline December 31, 2020.”
  • Benjamin A. Overholt, Ph.D., joined the U.S. Census Bureau today as the Deputy Director for Data. “In this role, he will support the Census Bureau in ensuring the 2020 Census data products are of the highest quality. He is experienced in data management, data analysis and decision support.” 
  • As the U.S. Census Bureau continues to monitor the impacts COVID-19 has on 2020 Census operations, changes to operations are being deployed to ensure the safety of staff and the public while maximizing the number of households that respond on their own to the 2020 Census.
  • Door-to-Door Visits Begin Nationwide for 2020 Census: Census takers began following up with households on July 16 in a limited number of areas and added additional areas each week thereafter. Starting Aug. 9, all remaining offices began following up with households nationwide.
  • As census takers start visiting neighborhoods across the country, the U.S. Census Bureau is launching the last phase of its “Shape Your Future. Start Here.” 2020 Census communications campaign with a new series of advertisements informing the public that there is still time to self-respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail. The ads are designed to reach 45 language-based audiences and will run from approximately Aug. 3 to Sept. 27.
  • The Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control released a joint statement on conducting 2020 Census NRFU interviews.
  • U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham released a statement updating the 2020 Census plan to “include enumerator awards and the hiring of more employees to accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline of December 31, 2020, as required by law and directed by the Secretary of Commerce.”

Data Releases

News You Can Use

Below are several articles posted on The Census Project home page in July. For a complete listing, go to:

Running Out Of Time, Census Scales Back A Critical Step: Checking Its Own Work
August 29, 2020

Why Counting Black Lives Matters — The 2020 Census
New England Journal of Medicine
August 27, 2020

Governors urge Census deadline extension
The Stanly News & Press
August 26, 2020

With a month left, judge is asked to give 2020 census more time
August 25, 2020

Confidence in accuracy of Michigan’s 2020 Census count among local officials slipping further
University of Michigan News
August 25, 2020

Will the 2020 census numbers be good enough, and how soon will we know?
August 24, 2020

Why are rural North Dakotans not responding to the 2020 census?
Grand Forks Herald
August 24, 2020

Cities Sue Census Bureau Over Ending 2020 Head Count Early
Associated Press
August 18, 2020

Amid Partisan Concerns, Another Trump Appointee Joins Census Bureau’s Top Ranks
August 17, 2020

Many unknowns with the 2020 Census
Federal News Network
August 13, 2020

Census Takers Are Contacting The 56 Million Households That Haven’t Yet Responded
August 12, 2020

After decades of undercounting Native Americans push to be represented in census
The Durango Herald
August 9, 2020

An Abrupt Change To The Census Deadline Shortened The Response Period By A Month, Increasing Fears Of An Undercount In Texas
Texas Tribune
August 5, 2020

Democrats blast attempt to speed up 2020 census count
The Washington Times
August 4, 2020