March 2020 Census Project Update

March was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on every facet of American life; the 2020 Census was no exception. From appropriations to operations, COVID-19 impacted the 2020 Census in ways no one could have predicted at the beginning of the month, including the suspension of field operations and in-person interviews for surveys and extension of the non-response follow up (NRFU) operations. 


In March, with the Capitol complex and office buildings closed to the public and congressional hearing schedules suspended, work on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills came to an abrupt halt. Instead, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees pivoted quickly to work on three COVID-19 related relief bills that Congress passed—many of which contained supplemental FY 2020 funding. None of the provisions in these bills, however, provided the Census Bureau or 2020 Census with additional funding. Instead, in March, census stakeholders and congressional staff alike urged the Bureau to tap existing contingency funds to cover any unanticipated costs related to COVID-19. Unfortunately, as the crisis progresses into the spring, it is likely necessary for the Census Bureau to receive additional funding. The Census Project will be closely monitoring developments and alerting stakeholders if more funding is necessary to support decennial census operations.

The House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee accepted public witness testimony electronically through March 13. At press time, the Subcommittee was also still posting April 28 as the targeted date for marking up its FY 2021 bill, but staff were skeptical that date would hold. Rumors abound that a long-term continuing resolution may be the best route to ensuring continuity of federal funding once FY 2021 begins on October 1, 2020. In the Senate, the CJS subcommittee announced it would be accepting FY 2021 public witness testimony until May 8, 2020.

On March 18, the Census Project sponsored a webinar during which Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin and Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Page presented highlights from the Census Bureau’s FY 2021 budget request and fielded questions. The presentation was off-the-record. The slides are available, by request. Please contact Mary Jo Hoeksema, Census Project Co-Director,, if you would like to receive a copy.

2020 Census in the News

The Census Bureau sponsored an event in Cleveland, Ohio, to launch a nationwide effort to make sure all young children are counted in the 2020 Census. Bill O’Hare reported on the event.

The rates of self-response reported by the Census Bureau don’t measure the accuracy of the 2020 Census, but they can be useful in keeping track of how the census is doing and what areas may need greater engagement. Read more about how to track 2020 Census progress in real time.

O’Hare also reported on new research focused on the high net undercount of young black children in the census.

Census Bureau Updates

Census Bureau extends suspension of field operations until April 15

Census Bureau suspends in-person interviews for surveys effective March 20

Census Bureau statement on modifying count of college students

Census Bureau Suspends Field Operations Through April 1

Census Bureau releases initial response rates to 2020 Census

2020 Census Invitations Arrive March 12-20

2020 Census Preview Map Now Available

Census Bureau Data Releases

2020 Census Paid Temporary Workers

American Fact Finder Officially Retired

Census Bureau Releases Educational Attainment Data

Most of the Counties with the Largest Population Gains Since 2010 Are in Texas

Legislative Update

Thirty-one Members of Congress submitted a request to the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee on March 13, 2020, under the auspices of the House Census Caucus, for “at least $1.681 billion in funding for the Census Bureau. This amount is $9 million above the Administration’s FY 2021 request of $1.672 billion for the Bureau.” As their letter explains, “In FY 2021, the Census Bureau must close out operations around the largest and most technically advanced census in our nation’s history. The Bureau must process 2020 Census data and send it to the President for apportionment by the end of the year, conduct a post-enumeration survey to measure the quality of this data, develop and test tools to ensure data confidentiality, close area census offices, and decommission equipment and devices.”

Twenty-three members of the U.S. Senate signed an open letter, led by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), urging the public to respond to the 2020 Census online or by phone or mail. The letter is posted here.

On March 12, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced H.R. 6215, the Honest Census Communications Act. The bill would outlaw the transmission of false information about the decennial census using written, digital, or telephonic communications in order to impede or prevent others from participating in the census. The bill would impose fines of up to $11,000 per communication or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both. 

News You Can Use

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

Coronavirus is newest threat to Latinos’ census response, as groups pivot on outreach
NBC News
March 30, 2020

Census Field Operations Further Delayed Until April 15 By COVID-19 Pandemic
March 28, 2020

Don’t Forget About the Census in California
The New York Times
March 24, 2020

Census delays all operations amid pandemic concerns
Roll Call
March 20, 2020

Completion of 2020 U.S. Census extended into August amid coronavirus pandemic
March 20, 2020

Coronavirus is slowing down search for census workers, could make it harder to count Americans
USA Today
March 19, 2020

What are the implications of social distancing for 2020 census?
Federal News Network
March 18, 2020

It’s time to fill out the census. Will people include the most undercounted age group?
The News & Observer
March 12, 2020

House Oversight panel calls on GOP to stop sending ‘census’ mailers
The Hill
March 5, 2020

Newly released documents show political interference in census citizenship question, say plaintiffs
March 3, 2020