Last month, the Trump administration abruptly announced that it would halt the 2020 census count on Sept. 30, four weeks earlier than the original Census Bureau deadline.
The census, which happens only once every 10 years, is a constitutionally required process designed to count every person living in the United States. It is one of the most important undertakings the federal government engages in because it determines the distribution of political power and resources nationwide that affect Americans for an entire decade.
After failing in its attempt to add a question designed to intimidate communities of color, the Trump administration seeks to undermine the census in two ways: by unconstitutionally limiting who is counted by excluding undocumented immigrants and by throwing up its hands and giving up on an accurate count one month early.
In response to the illegal effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count, Common Cause is challenging the president in federal court. As for threatening the accuracy of the count, we need your help because North Carolina has a troublingly low response rate and is at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal funding.
Yesterday National Public Radio reported that the U.S. House Oversight Committee had obtained internal census documents warning that “serious errors discovered in the data may not be fixed — due to lack of time to research and understand the root cause or to re-run and re-review one or multiple state files.”
Unless we act quickly, our community is in danger of losing significant resources because of a census undercount. With less than a month to go before the Census Bureau’s new deadline for ending the count, only 60& of households in North Carolina have self-responded to the census form. This is the Census Bureau’s most accurate response method. Some counties have response rates as low as 32% to 35%. This is potentially devastating.
According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, North Carolina received almost $24 billion in federal funding derived from census data in fiscal year 2016 alone. This included funding for highway planning and construction, special education, school lunches, the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, and other crucial areas.
Population totals are also used for redistricting, drawing voting districts at all levels of government. This includes Congress, the state legislature, county governments, city councils and school boards. Accurate census data ensure that districts of the same type have equal population, which the U.S. Constitution requires to guarantee equal representation. If census data are wrong, undercounted communities will have less representation in the halls of power than nearby communities of equal population.
Fortunately, there is something you can do. The first essential step you can take is to respond to the census if you haven’t already done so. Go to 2020census.gov to find out how you can complete the census form in just a few minutes online, by phone or by mail.
Spread the word and tell your friends and family to do the same. This ensures that you are counted, that North Carolina has the resources we need, and that census staff does not have to knock on your door to ask for your response.
The second thing you can do is to contact your member of Congress and ask them to support an extension of census operations. This is the first time a decennial census has been conducted in the middle of a global pandemic. The response rates nationally and in North Carolina show that we need more time to do this right. A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 7974, would give the Census Bureau an additional month to continue census operations and move back deadlines for sending data to the states. Go to House.gov and use the “find your representative” function to urge your member of Congress to support H.R. 7974.
This is the last chance we have to make sure our communities count in our democracy and get their fair share of resources. Remember, together, fearless we count. Will you do your part today?