CHN: 2020 Census Count Ends, but Advocates’ Work Continues

While a Supreme Court decision on Oct. 13 allowed the Trump Administration to end the 2020 Census count on Oct. 15, advocates’ work on the important decennial count continues.

The decision suspended a lower court order allowing the head count to continue through Oct. 31, and the Census Bureau is currently scheduled to deliver apportionment counts for congressional seats to the President by Dec. 31. However, advocates and a bipartisan group of members of Congress agree that, given the delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau cannot produce acceptably accurate data by that date. The Trump Administration, including the Census Bureau, had previously taken that position as well.

In April, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham asked Congress to extend the statutory deadlines for apportionment and redistricting by 120 days each, to April 30, 2021 for apportionment counts delivered to the President and July 31, 2021 for redistricting data delivered to the states. However, in an abrupt about-face in August, the Administration rescinded its request to extend the statutory deadlines. As the Associated Press reported, groups suing the Administration over the timetables said the deadline for turning in apportionment numbers was moved up to accommodate an order from President Trump to exclude undocumented people from the numbers used to divvy up congressional seats among the states. Sticking to a Dec. 31 deadline ensures that data processing remains under the Trump Administration’s control, regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 3 election. A panel of federal judges in New York ruled that Trump’s order was unlawful, but the Administration has appealed to the Supreme Court. A second panel of federal judges in California last week also ruled that the order was also unconstitutional, and the Trump administration again said it planned to appeal.

Advocates are extremely concerned that a rushed Census will leave out millions of low-income people, including those in underserved rural areas, children, immigrants, and people of color, leading to billions of dollars lost to low-income communities over the next decade. First, door-to-door Census takers failed to reach their target goals in many areas of the U.S., undercounting hundreds of thousands of Americans. In addition, after field operations cease, the Census begins a painstaking, complex, and highly specialized series of activities to process and correct the raw data (for example, eliminating double-counting) before it is ready for use in apportioning representatives among states, redistricting, and allocating federal funding. A Census document, in fact, notes that, “A compressed review period creates risk for serious errors not being discovered in the data – thereby significantly decreasing data quality.”

The extended deadlines are included in bipartisan legislation, the 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act (S. 4571), sponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK); other Republican lawmakers have also urged Secretary Ross to extend census operations. The Coalition on Human Needs endorsed this bill, joining more than 200 organizations that affirm the need for adequate time for a fair and complete count. CHN also sent a letter to all Senators supporting the inclusion of extensions for reporting apportionment counts and redistricting data in the COVID relief package or another timely package.