On Monday, August 3, 2020, the Census Bureau issued a statement, confirming reports that it plans for all 2020 census counting efforts to be cut four weeks short of what was expected. This is the federal administration’s latest attempt to inject an element of chaos and intimidation into what should be a unifying and democratic process. In April, the Census Bureau asked all households to respond to its 10-question survey either online or by mail. For those who did not respond, there has been an extended time of following up over the phone, by mail, and by door knocking where possible. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this follows up was planned to go on until October 31st. The newly announced plan would abruptly bring the process to an end by September 30.
Cutting the time short is a shameful attempt to suppress our count and cheat areas with hard-to-count populations, including many communities in New York, out of our fair share of federal funding and representation in Congress. Reducing the time needed for a comprehensive enumeration effort will have lasting consequences for our state and our country long after the responses are collected and analyzed.
New York has a lot at stake. New York State’s current response rate ranks 38th among states, trailing the national average by four percentage points and New York City is behind by eight percentage points. Census Bureau workers have already begun door-knocking operations in New York with a full rollout occurring on August 11th. With a self-response rate of 59 percent, the Census Bureau still has to count 41 percent of New Yorkers in less than two months.
In prior decennial census counts, when the country was not facing a pandemic, there were already populations that were demonstrably more difficult to count than others. These groups include people of color, immigrants, households with children under five years old, and people who live in rural or isolated areas, among many others. Cutting the count early means that we will be shortchanged and threatens the accuracy of the data the Census Bureau collects.
Community-based groups always play an important role as trusted voices promoting full participation in the census, particularly in communities that may be hesitant about filling out government forms. For the past two years, the Fiscal Policy Institute has called on the governor and state legislature to support community-based organizations to help the state achieve an accurate count. Last year the state allocated $15 million in the budget to let counties and cities regrant state funds to local community-based organizations in every county and upstate cities. After a long wait, some of this money is finally going forward. This week, all 62 counties and four cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers) in New York State received notification that they are eligible for funding from the state at 50 percent of the previously committed amount.
While this is great news and a win for all of the advocates who fought for the census to be made a priority in the New York State budget over the past two years, this funding should have been allocated to counties and cities, when it was scheduled to in March. It is not unreasonable for the state to ask for revised plans due to COVID-19, but this added layer of review should be quickly resolved so that the full funding can get out in time for it to matter. A complete count is vital to New York’s COVID-19 recovery, and for thousands of other plans that we will have in the future. The attacks waged on the census count, combined with the fact that the count is taking place during a pandemic, make the full $30 million of New York State funding allocated in last year’s budget and this year’s budget, for community-based groups in all areas of the state more critical than ever.
At the federal level, Congress should not accept the Census Bureau’s plans. It should act immediately to make sure the statutory reporting deadlines for congressional apportionment data are extended and give the Census Bureau the time it has said it needs to complete the count. We stand with the Census Project and urge the Senators McConnell and Schumer to include language that would extend the statutory deadlines for the 2020 Census by four months in the next Senate COVID relief package. This extension will give the Census Bureau the time it needs to complete the constitutionally required count during a global pandemic and then complete critical data review, processing, and tabulation activities.
If you have not responded to the 10-question survey already, take a few minutes to do so now.
By Shamier Settle