Last week, a federal judge halted the Trump administration’s efforts to conclude the 2020 Census count a month early, but the Trump Administration quickly appealed the ruling — further complicating what could be the deadline for this year’s census.
While the case continues to play out in court, the Census Bureau and officials continue to stress the importance of responding. The count is used to determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to communities, as well as how many seats each state will get in the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Sept. 24, a federal judge halted the Trump administration’s efforts to conclude the census count a month early, a ruling cheered by North Carolinians who believed cutting the process short risked undercounting traditionally difficult to count minority and rural communities. The next day, the administration appealed the judge’s order.
“While we support the court decision, we still want to convey the message that folks complete the census as soon as possible to get a complete count,” said Daniel Valdez, the North Carolina director of the Hispanic Federation, who has coordinated census outreach efforts statewide.
The battle over the census deadline, like the census count itself, isn’t over yet, and advocates say North Carolina has a lot to gain, or lose, by its final outcome.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration asked Congress to extend the census deadline by four months, from the end of April to the end of October. Yet over the summer, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross directed the Census Bureau to end its enumerator efforts — via phone, mail and door-knocking — by Sept. 30.
The administration claimed this move was necessary to meet a Dec. 31 statutory deadline, though critics argued the decision was intended to ensure President Trump would still control census data even if he lost the upcoming Presidential election.
North Carolina census advocates urged politicians to reconsider the census deadline.
“We need more time,” said Stacey Carless, executive director of NC Counts Coalition, during her Sept. 10 testimony to the federal House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
“The Constitution gives Congress responsibility for getting the census right. If there is any hope of salvaging a complete and accurate 2020 census count for this country, the census deadline must be extended to at least Oct. 31, 2020.”
Carless was concerned a truncated census process would overlook North Carolina’s traditionally hard-to-count populations, including Latinos, Black people, young children and those living in the state’s vast rural regions. She told Congress that North Carolina stood to lose out on $7 billion in federal funding if these populations went undercounted.
According to the bureau, shortening the time for the census increases the risk of serious errors in the results, which are used to guide the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal money to local communities for Medicare, Medicaid and other public services.
For example, this year, the U.S. Treasury Department used 2010 census data to assemble the $150 billion in CARES Act coronavirus relief.
Currently, North Carolina still lags behind many other states in terms of self-response rate of 62.7 percent, and is ranked 36th in the US for self-response.
With more than 4 million North Carolina residents who have not been counted, the state is at risk of losing $7.4 billion annually in federal funding.
For now, the final census deadline still unclear, it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone is counted. If a majority of North Carolina goes under counted, the number reported in this year’s census will result in a distribution of federal services and congressional representation that does not match the population’s needs.
Bottom Line: This COVID-19 pandemic has set all of us back and created many challenges to get people counted, especially for rural areas, and Black and Brown communities. Congress should not let the Trump administration get away with under counting groups that have historically been underrepresented and underfunded.
If you haven’t filled out the census, here are ways to do it: