With West Virginia at an overall self-response rate of 53 percent so far, and their local county at not even 40 percent, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) of Greater Wheeling recently held a “Pop Up Census.”
According to a news report, NAMI opened a “drop-in center” in Wheeling “to help anyone that walked in the door who might be on the fence about giving away personal information. Some community members may be homeless; some may not have access to a computer; and some may have been confused on how to get counted. But now all had resources at their fingertips.”
As reported in The New York Times, “Reliant on institutions that once seemed impervious to recession, ‘town and gown’ communities that have evolved around rural campuses — Cornell, Amherst College, Penn State — are confronting not only Covid-19 but also major losses in population, revenue and jobs.”
That’s why the International Town & Gown Association (ITGA), National League of Cities (NLC), and International City/County Management Association (ICMA) recently wrote to Congressional leadership requesting assistance.
“As America experiences the harsh economic consequences of COVID-19, university and college towns also face another significant consequence: a Census undercount that could impact community quality of life for the next decade. We ask for your support to maintain an accurate 2020 Census count and help these communities.” In particular, the letter highlighted that, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, “large numbers of these university communities’ residents were absent on the day that matters the most, April 1, because many student-residents had moved out in March, when universities closed their campuses.”
The groups requested that Congress direct the Census Bureau to adjust 2020 Census methods to pick up the slack in university communities, and add “an Emergency COVID-19 Accurate Census Count Fund in addition to existing Census resources to allow communities with substantial shifts in their count, such as university communities, to directly apply for funds to complete a recount or take additional outreach actions to reach an acceptable response rate while socially distanced, such as remote ‘Get Out the Count’ activities,” as well as providing other financial assistance to university communities.
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) wrote recently to Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham with “concern about the potential for the COVID-19 pandemic to decrease participation in the 2020 Census and thereby lead to an undercount of our country’s population.” She urged him to “ensure that communities are counted accurately and completely by enhancing the U.S. Census Bureau’s media and field outreach plans.”
To “compensate for the absence of face-to-face communication that educates and encourages census participation,” thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Feinstein urged Dillingham to “consider” expanding the advertising campaign, increasing investment in hiring and training, increasing “capacity of the Census Questionnaire Assistance operation to receive census responses and answer questions from respondents,” and “avoid using administrative records for enumeration.”
While suggesting that “there are still openings to regain trust of the data community and have Census data products that will be of provable high quality and protects the privacy of the respondents at the same time,” Jan Vink from the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics said he was “wary about the quantity and quality of the data.” His recent blog post called into question the Census Bureau’s rethinking on (1) “table shells: what tabulations to publish and what not to publish” and (2) differential privacy, while proposing what the Bureau could have done better and how it can try to rebuild data users’ trust.
A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the historic COVID-19-induced disruption to the 2020 Census warned that delays and changes to the headcount operations “present further risks to an accurate, timely, and cost-effective count.”
GAO recommended that the Census Bureau look at the following factors “to ensure the implementation and quality of the count”:
Continued attention to self-response;
Communicating pandemic plans to ensure continued operations;
Achieving and maintaining sufficient staffing levels;
Revising its approach to communications and partnerships;
Adjusting plans for Group Quarters and Service-Based Enumeration;
Monitoring ongoing risks to IT systems implementation;
Managing disinformation and misinformation;
Addressing cybersecurity weaknesses;
Protecting the privacy of respondent data;
Ensuring data quality under potentially compressed timeframes; and
Evaluating the impact of census delays on data quality.
During a press conference in Atlanta on May 29, 2020, the rapper Killer Mike urged rioters and looters to go home instead and fill out their census forms.
“If you sit in your homes tonight instead of burning your homes to the ground, you will have time to properly plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize in an effective way. And two of the most effective ways are first taking your butt to your computer and making sure you fill out your census, so that people know who you are and where you are…”
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Native American Rights Fund, and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition have created a 1-page flyer featuring four steps to safely count native households.
The Census Bureau and NCAI also partnered in developing a how-to guide for virtual canvassing of Indian Country.
Denice Ross of Georgetown University wrote in The Hill that, “For example, local census partners are spreading the word that residents who need help filling out the form can call the Census Bureau. However, if the bureau were to share data on call volumes, then partners could tell residents when the best time to call is, rather than clogging up the phone lines and causing long wait times that discourage residents from completing the process. Complete Count Committees and Census Bureau Partners need that type of data in an open format so they can incorporate it into their own carefully planned outreach efforts.”
Ross proposed several data streams that would be useful for the Bureau to provide
“weekly analysis on response rates for specific hard-to-reach populations like children ages 0-5 and renters to hone partner outreach messaging,” in addition the existing self-response rate reporting;
“Completion rates for the non-response follow-up workload so trusted local messengers can encourage participation”;
“Group quarters workload completed by type of facility (nursing home, college dorm, correctional facility, etc.) and by state, so state and local officials can provide support for sectors falling behind in the count”;
“hourly wait times by language line” from the Census Bureau’s call centers, “and the most common questions from callers, such as ‘when will I get my paper form?’”; and
“recruiting goals by county,” if the Bureau needs more workers, including “demographic characteristics and language skills,” so that local partners can help identify potential job candidates.”
TOP DOC: A coalition of organizations called The Census Project, which advocates for an “inclusive and accurate” census, sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators last week asking for nearly $1.7 billion in fiscal 2021 funding for the Census Bureau. That total is $9 million more than what the Trump administration requested, they noted. The groups also urged lawmakers to provide additional assistance in future pandemic relief legislation.
Politico Pro Budget & Appropriations newsletter. By Caitlin Emma. May 18, 2020.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) wrote to the House Oversight & Reform Committee on May 14, 2020 about the delays to the 2020 Census “and their state impact on redistricting,” as well as the Census Bureau’s use of “differential privacy as its statistical method for protecting individual data,” two issues presenting “a conundrum for many states.”
Delayed census operations and reporting “present serious hurdles for states constrained by state constitutional and statutory requirements for districting and elections.” Meanwhile, “differential privacy has caused state concerns regarding the accuracy of the data they will receive.”
NCSL asked for a “meaningful consultation” between the Census Bureau and states regarding their concerns and for vigorous Congressional oversight.