In Response to Federal Court Ruling, NM Delegation Calls on Trump Administration to Continue Vital Census Collection Efforts Through Oct. 31

Undercount could cost the state hundreds of millions in federal funding for the next decade; NM Census response rate currently behind national average

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) urged the Trump administration to continue Census data collection efforts in New Mexico following a federal court ruling that blocked the truncated September 30, 2020 deadline for the completion of data collection. In a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham and Census Associate Director of Field Operations Timothy Olson, the New Mexico delegation emphasized the importance of a complete and accurate count.

In response to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau earlier this year announced it would extend Census field operations through October 31, 2020. However, the Trump administration then abruptly cut the enumeration period one month short, ordering the census count to end at the end of September so it could deliver population counts to the president by December 31, 2020.

Days ago, a federal judge ruled against the Trump administration’s attempts to cut the census count short. But since the federal court order, Department of Commerce Secretary Ross designated October 5, 2020 as the new date to conclude census self-response and field data collection operations. This recent Trump announcement contradicts the intent of the federal judicial order and rushes the count of communities in New Mexico.

“As members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation, we have a strong interest in ensuring that the federal government meets its constitutional duty to count all persons living in New Mexico for the 2020 Census,” the delegation wrote. “The communities of color and diverse constituencies that we serve – including rural and Tribal populations – remain among the most difficult to enumerate in the country. The importance of a fair enumeration to the people of New Mexico is not only critical to ensuring that our constituents are properly represented in Congress and in our state legislatures, but also for the allocation of federal dollars. The consequences of undercounting the people of New Mexico in the 2020 Census would be enormously damaging for at least the next decade.”

Just 97.5 percent of New Mexicans have been counted in the 2o2o Census, which falls below the current national average of 98.7 percent. An inaccurate count places hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding at stake and affects the apportionment of local, state and federal representation for the next 10 years.

“In March 2020, shortly after the beginning of data collection, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the U.S. Census Bureau’s Operational Plan and compelled more time for census operations,” the delegation continued. “Accordingly, on April 13, 2020, the Bureau adopted the COVID-19 Plan, which lengthened the schedule for data collection and processing, and the Secretary of Commerce’s reports of population ‘tabulations’ to the President and the states. Detailed media reports have revealed that President Trump and Census Bureau officials publicly stated that meeting the December 31, 2020 deadline would be impossible given the ongoing pandemic.” 

“However, on August 3, 2020, the Bureau announced a revised operational agenda, branded the ‘Replan,’ which significantly reduced the COVID-19 timeframes overall from 71 ½ weeks to 49 ½ weeks.

“The Bureau’s most recent announcement that the new target date to conclude field operations and self-response by October 5, 2020 is troublesome for our communities, and we urge the Bureau to plan for continued operations through the end of October as the current court decision intends,” the delegation concluded. “Moreover, we request the Bureau provide clear communication of an adjusted schedule allowing for field operations to continue until October 31, 2020 on its website and urgently communicate this to census operations teams to help New Mexico and the rest of the country achieve a complete census count.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Ross, Dr. Dillingham and Mr. Olson,

Following the recent federal district court ruling in Nat’l Urb. League v. Ross,  we urge you to continue to lead census data collection efforts in, and retain all employees and partnership specialists serving, New Mexico through October 31, 2020. As members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation, we have a strong interest in ensuring that the federal government meets its constitutional duty to count all persons living in New Mexico for the 2020 Census. The communities of color and diverse constituencies that we serve – including rural and Tribal populations – remain among the most difficult to enumerate in the country. The importance of a fair enumeration to the people of New Mexico is not only critical to ensuring that our constituents are properly represented in Congress and in our state legislatures, but also for the allocation of federal dollars. The consequences of undercounting the people of New Mexico in the 2020 Census would be enormously damaging for at least the next decade.  

In March 2020, shortly after the beginning of data collection, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the U.S. Census Bureau’s Operational Plan and compelled more time for census operations.  Accordingly, on April 13, 2020, the Bureau adopted the COVID-19 Plan, which lengthened the schedule for data collection and processing, and the Secretary of Commerce’s reports of population “tabulations” to the President and the states.  Detailed media reports have revealed that President Trump and Census Bureau officials publicly stated that meeting the December 31, 2020 deadline would be impossible given the ongoing pandemic. 

However, on August 3, 2020, the Bureau announced a revised operational agenda, branded the “Replan,” which significantly reduced the COVID-19 timeframes overall from 71 ½ weeks to 49 ½ weeks.  Specifically for post-processing, the timeframe was shortened from 26 weeks to 13 weeks, reverting from the deadline of April 30, 2021 the White House and the Census Bureau requested of Congress, to the original statutory deadline of December 31, 2020. Self-response was compressed from 33 ½ weeks to 29 weeks and the Non-Response Follow Up (NFRU) timeframe was compressed from 11 ½ weeks to 7 ½ weeks, with timeframes for both moved up from October 31, 2020 to September 30, 2020.  We note that separate reports issued by the Government Accountability Office and U.S. Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General determined that the acceleration of collecting data increases the risks to obtaining a complete and accurate 2020 Census.

Following these actions, our offices remain gravely concerned that the Census Bureau is in danger of failing to meet its own target for a nationwide enumeration rate of at least 99 percent. Indeed, as of September 28, 2020, New Mexico was below that target with a 96.9 percent total response rate.  Furthermore, we are troubled that even with a 99 percent enumeration rate, that household information will be incomplete or inaccurate. The increased risk of an undercount is commensurate with the Bureau’s use of less accurate data collection and administrative practices as it attempts to rush its operational plan. We are concerned that rushed enumeration protocols will endanger data quality in New Mexico independent of a 99 percent or greater enumeration rate. These include but are not limited to: greater reliance on proxies, enumerators collecting “headcounts” for households while using administrative records to complete missing demographic information for a household’s members, lack of sufficient enumerators in hard-to-count census tracts, and the Bureau letting go of entire offices or teams of temporary employees before field operations have concluded.

Accordingly, we expect you to continue field operations until October 31, 2020 based on the Bureau’s April 13, 2020 COVID-19 Plan while any appeals in the Ninth Circuit or other courts are pending. The Bureau’s most recent announcement that the new target date to conclude field operations and self-response by October 5, 2020 is troublesome for our communities, and we urge the Bureau to plan for continued operations through the end of October as the current court decision intends. Moreover, we request the Bureau provide clear communication of an adjusted schedule allowing for field operations to continue until October 31, 2020 on its website and urgently communicate this to census operations teams to help New Mexico and the rest of the country achieve a complete census count.

We look forward to hearing back from you regarding a commitment to gathering a full, fair, and accurate count for the 2020 Census.

Sincerely,