NM lawmakers criticize new Census deadline

By:  Scott Turner

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation criticized a decision this week by the Trump administration moving up the end of field data collection for the 2020 Census from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall called the decision an “obvious attempt to skew the count,” while fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland voiced concerns about the state losing federal funding.

“Our communities are tired of falling behind and not getting the funding that we need and deserve for our futures,” Haaland said in a news release. “The Trump administration is clearly determined to keep us, and our futures, behind.”

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham insisted in a statement his agency was doing what it could to ensure a complete and safe count during the COVID-19 pandemic, but gave no explanation as to why the deadline had been moved up. He said the bureau hired more workers to speed up the count.

“We will improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness,” he said. Dillingham visited New Mexico last year at Udall’s and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich’s invitation to view some of the challenges the state faced when it comes to reporting an accurate count.

Udall said there were “still 60 million uncounted households, many of them are hard to reach, like our Native and rural communities who need to be counted.”

“When our communities are undercounted, hospitals, schools, roads, infrastructure, water systems and more are underfunded,” he said. “Ending the census early is dangerous for states like New Mexico because of our harder-to-count populations that already face chronic underfunding issues.”

Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Complete Count Committee Chairwoman Cathryn McGill said in a news release she was “disappointed and puzzled” by the decision.

“We will redouble our efforts to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the enumerators hitting the streets to knock on doors of residents who haven’t yet responded, and we are asking all of our community partners to continue to spread the word until the end of this campaign that we can still respond online or by phone.”

Her organization said about 66% of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County residents have been counted so far. According to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s office, about half of the state’s households have been counted as of last week. His office said the state would lose $780 million if just 1% of the population chooses not to participate in the census.

“The Trump administration’s attempt to rush the Census count hurts New Mexicans and shirks its constitutional duty,” the congressman said. He urged residents to respond “by phone, mail, or online.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez urged similar action on Twitter. He said only 13.1% of Navajo households had responded as of July 29.

“Please take time to self-respond today – it only takes a few minutes,” he said.

Heinrich said there wasn’t a justification to end the Census early. He called for an extension of the deadline to allow for a fair and accurate count because of the pandemic in a letter to congressional leadership.

“The stakes for communities all across the country are too high to allow the Trump White House to politicize and bungle the Census,” he said in a statement to the Journal.