The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Census Bureau “to change how it will operate” and a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warns that, as the Bureau implements those changes and “anticipates completing them within the new compressed timeframes,” that a number of areas require close watch. “We have previously reported that late design changes can introduce new risks and the Bureau identified this as a risk in August of 2015. Delays, the resulting compressed timeframes, implementation of untested procedures, and continuing challenges such as COVID-19 could escalate census costs and undermine the overall quality of the count.”
As the GAO demonstrates, the impact of a rushed 2020 Census could be quite negative.
On September 15, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced a bipartisan bill that would extend two key statutory deadlines for the 2020 Census by four months and require the Census Bureau to continue field operations through October 31, 2020. The bill, the 2020 Census Deadline Extension Act, was endorsed by more than 200 national and state organizations. More information about the bill, including a link to its text, is available online in a press release issued by Senator Schatz. A bipartisan companion measure, H.R. 8250, was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Young (R-Alaska) and Congressman Gallego (D-Arizona).
The Census Scientific Advisory Committee will be meeting next (virtually) on September 17 and 18, 2020. With the 2020 Census still going and attendant controversy about a rushed end to the census, the discussion should be interesting. As explained in the Federal Register, the meeting “will address policy, research, and technical issues relating to a full range of Census Bureau programs and activities, including decennial, economic, field operations, information technology, and statistics.”
The agenda currently includes presentations on and discussions of current census operations, administrative data use, plans for post-enumeration evaluation, the use of differential privacy mechanisms, and the use of citizen age voting population data.
Interested viewers can connect via WebEx on September 17 and 18.
Sharing her “serious concerns with the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to end self-response and field data collection operations for the decennial census by September 30, 2020, one month earlier than previously announced,” Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, Republican Representative for Puerto Rico, wrote to Census Director Steven Dillingham on August 11 that she was “particularly worried about the implications this could have on the accuracy and completeness of the count in low self-response jurisdictions like Puerto Rico.”
González-Colón urged the Census Bureau to provide “additional time,” as originally planned in April, to “support efforts to achieve an accurate and complete count, which is vital to ensure we receive appropriate federal funding to support Puerto Rico’s ongoing recovery process and continue meeting the needs of our citizens during the next decade.”
Her letter echoes the support from a recent bipartisan Senate letter, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the U.S. business community, and nearly 900 stakeholder groups.
Read Rep. González-Colón’s letter.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) recently told Census Director Dillingham that “Alaska communities and census workers deserve the time needed to produce a complete count.”
“The plan you announced last April acknowledged the devastating impact” of the pandemic, he wrote on August 27, 2020, but “the time lost and other disruptions caused by this delay mean that Census workers will not be able to finish a complete and accurate count by the end of September.” On top of the pandemic-related problems, “Alaska currently has the lowest Census self-response rate in the nation.”
A rushed count would leave Alaska with “the largest inaccuracy in counting of any state and that will be reflected by a loss of federal funding for services like schools, infrastructure improvements, economic development, Medicaid and countless other vital programs.”
Recognizing that Census Bureau staff “have stated that they need additional time,” Congressman Young urged the Bureau to “extend the deadline to end field operations so there is adequate time to complete the Non-Response Follow Up phase of the Census.”
The Congressman’s letter echoes the support from a recent bipartisan Senate letter, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the U.S. business community, and nearly 900 stakeholder groups.
Read Rep. Young’s letter.
As you know, last month, the Department of Commerce abandoned its 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. Census stakeholders, nationwide, expressed alarm as indicated by the over 900 national, state, and local organizations that signed an August 6 letter organized by The Census Project to leaders in the U.S. Senate, urging that chamber to include language in its next COVID relief measure that would extend the 2020 Census statutory deadlines for delivering apportionment and redistricting data. (The U.S. House of Representatives already included this language in its last COVID relief package, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800)). Without congressional action, the Administration will be allowed to pursue its plan to rush completion of the 2020 Census—including curtailing quality assurance and data processing activities—and deliver flawed apportionment data by the end of the year.
Now, there is a window to push House and Senate leadership to prioritize including an extension of the statutory data reporting deadlines in upcoming legislation and to encourage Senators to support that effort. If your organization supports this effort, then please consider participating in efforts leading census stakeholder organizations are conducting currently—especially via social media!
It’s time to make some noise. TELL CONGRESS: SAVE THE CENSUS. (#SavetheCensus #DontRushtheCensus)
HERE’S HOW TO TAKE ACTION
HERE’S WHAT TO KNOW
- The public health crisis caused significant delays and disruptions to 2020 Census operations.
- That’s why the administration, alongside experts within the Census Bureau, asked Congress to push back the December 31, 2020 deadline for transmitting the state population totals used for congressional apportionment to the president, to April 30, 2021.
- In a bid to control how congressional apportionment is calculated, the Trump administration has abandoned its original request that Congress grant the bureau a reporting extension and is forcing the Census Bureau to cut the census short by one month.
- Without quick congressional action, the Census Bureau faces an impossible deadline of December 31, 2020 to count, review, process, tabulate, and report 2020 Census apportionment and redistricting data.
- Rural and tribal communities, people of color, and people with disabilities, and more have been hit hard by this pandemic. Their self-response rates are already low and many will be erased altogether if the Census Bureau doesn’t have the time it needs to count them.
- Rushing the count guarantees millions of people will remain uncounted, skewing congressional representation, redistricting, and critical community funding for every state in the country for the next 10 years.
- Congress needs to act before it’s too late. People in this country need lasting COVID-19 relief and that bill needs to give the Census Bureau the time and flexibility it needs to complete the 2020 Census.
Thank you for considering this opportunity to #SavetheCensus!
“For many communities across the nation, especially people of color and those living in rural areas, the calculus is simple and dire: fill out the 2020 census or risk a historic undercount that could jeopardize everything from a share in $1.5 trillion in federal funding to political representation in Congress.”
A recent article in USA Today highlighted the August 6th 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:
“The census count isn’t just about political power, but it’s also a tool used by the private sector to decide where to put that next mall or store, real bread and butter stuff that determines where you might be able to shop or work locally,” says Howard Fienberg, co-director of the Census Project, the nation’s largest census advocacy group, which organized the letter sent to McConnell and Schumer. Fienberg notes that a big undercount is likely to impact rural areas that already face limited commercial and federal resources, places like Big Horn County, Montana, (population: 13,000), where 82% of the population currently is uncounted by the 2020 census, or Rich County, Utah (1,800), where 88% have yet to respond. “This is all about letting people know you exist,” he says.
– “2020 Census ’emergency’ threatens to leave out communities of color and rural Americans.” by Marco della Cava. USA TODAY. August 16, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/08/16/census-emergency-pits-trump-against-activists-communities-color/3350691001/
There has been a dizzying amount of information about the 2020 Census in the news lately–new political appointees at the Census Bureau, a presidential memorandum excluding undocumented immigrants from apportionment, changes to key field operations, and contradictory Administration positions on whether to extend or not extend the statutory reporting deadlines for apportionment and redistricting data. Believe it or not, these events are closely intertwined.
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, which will allow 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)
But only three months later, without explanation, the administration abandoned its request to push back the statutory reporting deadlines, forcing the Census Bureau to rush through remaining counting operations (specifically the Nonresponse Follow-up Operation) 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.
Read more: “The Saga of the 2020 Census Extension: What Happened, and Where Are We Now?” Aug. 19. 2020. Population Association of America (PAA).
In a recent interview with the Federal News Network, former Census Director John Thompson called the current census turmoil “the greatest challenge the Census Bureau has faced since I’ve been involved in census-taking,” particularly since the Administration plans to end “nonresponse follow up a month early,” and the Census Bureau will “be very rushed.”
He warned 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.”
Facing the “risk that the census will have to rush and that there might be some serious undercounts introduced into the census,” Thompson noted that he and three other former directors recently recommended getting an independent organization to “develop some metrics and measures in advance of seeing the data or in advance of the data being released” that “could be used to assess the fitness for use of the census, and make people either feel comfortable that results were acceptable or give Congress a warning that they’re sub par.”
– “Many unknowns with the 2020 Census.” Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), highlighting “the challenges faced by Montana in the current census,” told Senate leadership on August 4 about “the need for an extension to the data collection deadline” to October 31 in the next coronavirus relief bill.
“Given the rural nature of Montana, and the additional challenges brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reverting the deadline back to September 30, 2020 will leave tens of thousands of Montanans uncounted and underrepresented at the federal level. Nearly half of the households in the state have yet to be counted. This problem is especially alarming on our tribal lands where the response rate is as low as 5% in some areas and many residents only recently received invitations to participate. It is critical that a full and accurate census is completed and every Montanan is counted.”
His letter echoes the support from a recent bipartisan Senate letter, the U.S. business community, and nearly 900 stakeholder groups.
Read Sen. Daines’ letter.