Frustration expressed over Census deadline change

By:  Mike Smith

A change in the deadline for collecting Census data is not sitting well with some in Congress and nonprofit groups charged with getting every resident in the United States to complete the 2020 Census.

In an Aug. 3 online statement, Census Director Steven Dillingham said the Bureau was ending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on Sept. 30.

“We are announcing updates to our plan that will 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,” Dillingham said in the statement.

The deadline was Oct. 30, however, the Trump administration changed the deadline due to federal restraints.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) called on the Trump administration to reverse its decision to cut Census data collection operations short by one month. The once a decade count, which is mandated by the Constitution, helps set federal funding levels that affect everything from schools, roads, and hospitals to representation in Congress, read a news release.

"The stakes for communities all across the country are too high to allow the Trump White House to politicize and bungle the Census," said Heinrich in the news release.

"Critical federal funds, resources, and even our political representation in Congress are all determined by the Census count. Especially because of challenges presented to in-person canvassing by the ongoing pandemic, we should be putting more resources into getting an accurate count — not cutting the Census short."

Oriana Sandoval, CEO of the Albuquerque based Center for Civic Policy non-profit, said the Census is under threat from the Trump administration.

Sandoval said her organization has been working to get people all over New Mexico counted for the 2020 Census. She said the deadline presents a new challenged.

“A rushed census shortchanges critical operations that count people of color, Native Americans, low-income people, and people experiencing homelessness in New Mexico and across the country. This would skew Congressional representation, redistricting, and critical funding for every state,” she said.

Russell Doss of the Eddy County Census Count Committee said the date change is “very bad news.”

“This is the most important time for census workers to be able to go to homes to contact non-responders in an attempt to get the census count information,” he said.

“With the 12-week Non-Response Follow Up (NRFU) time now cut down to eight weeks, it becomes very difficult for the Census workers to be able to follow up with all the homes they need to visit.”

Doss said an estimated 25,000 homes have been counted in Eddy County.

He said Eddy County has a self-response rate around 50 percent which means over 12,000 homes will need to be counted during the next eight weeks.

“It is inevitable that some homes may not be counted by the Census workers with the reduced time schedule,” he said.

As of Aug. 13, Census data indicated New Mexico’s self-response rate was 53.9 percent and the national rate was 63.6 percent.

Doss wasn’t surprised with the Census Bureau’s decision.

“We have been hearing about this possibility for several weeks,” he said.

An accurate count in the 2020 Census would make a significant impact in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas, said Tracee Bentley, CEO of the Permian Strategic Partnership (PSP).

“By the numbers, an undercount would have significant economic and fiscal impacts,” she said.

“According to a study by the Perryman Group, if even two percent, or one in 50, of Permian Basin residents were not to complete the census, over the next 10 years this undercount could result in regional losses of $1.1 billion in gross product as well as 13,135 job-years of employment, and a loss of $52.9 million in federal funding for local government entities.”

Bentley said PSP continues its efforts to educate and raise awareness for the 2020 Census through The Permian Counts campaign.