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Capitol Correspondence - 08.25.20

Census to End In-Person Interviews a Month Early, Creating Risk for Historically Undercounted Populations

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Census data is used by officials at all levels of government to make key funding decisions, including transportation, schooling and other areas that profoundly affect everyday life. The disability community has historically struggled with being undercounted in the Census, which has policy implications for how much is allotted for Medicaid funding, improvements to accessibility, special education and much more. We share NPR’s reporting on challenges surrounding counting the population because with the Census only conducted once per decade, it is important for our members to ensure the individuals they support are counted. Here are resources to help with being counted.

As reported by NPR:

“The Census Bureau is cutting short critical door-knocking efforts for the 2020 census amid growing concerns among Democrats in Congress that the White House is pressuring the bureau to wrap up counting soon for political gain, NPR has learned.

Attempts by the bureau’s workers to conduct in-person interviews for the census will end on Sept. 30 — not Oct. 31, the end date it indicated in April would be necessary to count every person living in the U.S. given major setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic. Three Census Bureau employees, who were informed of the plans during separate internal meetings Thursday, confirmed the new end date with NPR. All of the employees spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs.

‘It’s going to be impossible to complete the count in time,’ said one of the bureau employees, an area manager who oversees local census offices. ‘I’m very fearful we’re going to have a massive undercount.’

Asked why and when the decision was made to move up the end of door knocking, the Census Bureau replied in a written statement Friday: ‘We are currently evaluating our operations to enable the Census Bureau to provide this data in the most expeditious manner and when those plans have been finalized we will make an announcement.’

bout 4 out of 10 households nationwide have still not participated in the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S., and self-response rates are even lower in many communities.

This month, the bureau began deploying door knockers to visit unresponsive homes in certain parts of the country. Door-knocking efforts are expected to roll out nationwide Aug. 11.

It’s unclear how much longer households can submit census responses on their own by going online, over the phone and by mail. The bureau’s website — which as recently as Thursday still listed Oct. 31 as the end of the “self-response phase” that began in March — now reads that phase will last until the end of field data collection.

The condensed door-knocking time frame increases the risk of leaving out many people of color, immigrants and other members of historically undercounted groups from numbers that are collected once a decade to determine each state’s share of congressional seats, Electoral College votes and an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal tax dollars for Medicare, Medicaid and other public services.

Former Census Bureau Director John Thompson warns that with less time, the bureau would likely have to reduce the number of attempts door knockers would make to try to gather information in person. The agency may also have to rely more heavily on statistical methods to impute the data about people living in households they can’t reach.

‘The end result would be [overrepresentation] for the White non-Hispanic population and greater undercounts for all other populations including the traditionally hard-to-count, Thompson wrote in written testimony for a Wednesday hearing on the census before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

[…]

In April, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a Trump appointee who oversees the bureau, asked Congress to extend the legal deadlines for reporting census results because the bureau said it needed extra time to complete the national head count during the coronavirus pandemic.

[…]

So far, only Democrats have introduced legislation that would grant the bureau’s request.

On Wednesday, the bureau quietly updated its website and removed a key reference to Oct. 31, the previously announced end date for conducting follow-up visits. The bureau’s website now says it is ‘working to complete data collection as soon as possible, as it strives to comply with the law and statutory deadlines.’”