The U.S. Census Bureau has suspended its field operations through April 15. The 2020 Census Day is still April 1.
The bureau had announced it would resume hiring door-to-door knockers on April 1 but announced Saturday it would extend field operation suspensions through April 15. This extension could likely change again after President Donald Trump on Sunday extended federal social distancing protocols through April 30.
The 2020 Census aims to account for everyone living in the United States and its five territories. The deadline to self respond to invitations mailed out in mid-March by the U.S. Census Bureau was moved to Aug. 14.
“The Census Bureau is taking this step to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone who will go through the hiring process for temporary census take positions,” the bureau announced in a statement Saturday.
The April 15 field operations push back delays when workers would begin visiting with individuals who have not completed their questionnaires. Those filling out their census information should include everyone living in the home as of April 1, 2020 – Census Day.
“Census Day remains April 1 even with the ongoing pandemic,” Kristina R. Barrett, a U.S. Census Bureau spokesman, told the Log Cabin Democrat on Tuesday. “Things are changing every day and we are closely monitoring the situation and have adjusted some of our deadlines. For example, we have adjusted 2020 field operations in order to protect the health and safety of census employees and the American public, and ensure a complete and accurate count of all communities.”
Lori Case Melton, who is the census coordinator for Faulkner County, recommends residents respond to census questionnaires sooner rather than later.
“We encourage those in their time at home to be proactive and don’t wait until the deadline to complete their information, no matter what method they choose,” she said. “We also ask folks to reach out to others, especially in the hard to count groups and help them complete their documentation.”
Results from the 2020 Census count are used to:
Direct billions of dollars in federal funding to communities across the U.S. for schools, infrastructure and other public services.
Help communities prepare to me transportation and emergency readiness needs.
Determine the number of seats each state will receive in the U.S. House of Representatives – which also affects political representation on a localized level.
“Census data is used in funding for transportation, education, jobs, housing development, and endless other things, but also for fair representation in the house of representatives,” Melton told the Log Cabin Democrat. “Since Conway and Faulkner County are growing at a rapid pace, our census data becomes stale quickly. It is vital to count everyone now.”
Rising concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19 has added to the burden of correctly collecting household counts in residents’ ability to send in data as well as knowledge of where to identify one’s residence at (pertaining to college students who have left campus to finish courses online from elsewhere).
“Everything is concerning during this time, but it is especially a sensitive time for the census,” Melton said. “Since this is a ‘once in 10 years’ shot at getting an accurate head count, it is important to get this right. With the 2010 census data (the last time counted), Faulkner County was estimated to have a response rate of only 68 percent. That’s a 32 percent loss of revenue we could have received.”
It’s important to get an accurate count to receive as much funding as possible. Even small discrepancies in the numbers can lead to a hefty funding loss, Melton said.
“For each 1 percent failure to count means close to $1 billion of lost revenue for the state of Arkansas over the [10-year] period. That trickles down to millions in lost revenue for Faulkner County.”
College students who normally would be living in Conway prior to schools shutting down to prevent spreading the novel coronavirus should indicate they live in Conway, the Faulkner County census coordinator said.
Melton said she encourages residents to reach out to those considered “hard-to-count groups” to help them fill out their questionnaire. Senior citizens, young adults ages 18-25, non-English speaking residents, veterans, families of pre-school children and low-income families are considered hard-to-count groups.
“We have a large concentration of all of these in our area,” Melton said. “We are very concerned college students who normally live here more than six months a year will either go uncounted or counted incorrectly if they have gone home due to COVID-19. If the student would normally be in Conway for the month of April, we want them counted here. Another item of note, citizenship is not a requirement of the census. You should be counted whether you are a citizen of the United States or not.”
Another concern amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is library closures. While many residents would have been able to fill out their census documentation at the library, that option is no longer available.
Though these closures have caused local concerns, U.S. Census Bureau representatives said that it “has never been easier to respond [to census questionnaires] on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail – all without having to meet a census taker.”
The Faulkner County census coordinator said it’s easiest to fill out the questionnaire using a smart phone, tablet or computer.
“Each household should have received a code in the mail to use, however, if you didn’t receive a mailer, no worries. Simply go to www.mycensus.gov and get started. You will be asked several identifying questions and they you can complete it. It takes less than five minutes,” Melton said. “If electronic is not an option and you received a mailer with the questions, complete it by mail. If you are not receiving mailings, ask someone with a smart phone, tablet or computer to help you complete the census.”
If you cannot fill out the documentation online at www.my2020census.gov or by mail, residents can also call 1-844-330-2020. The toll free census assistance line is available from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and is available in English as well as 12 other languages.
The bureau suspended its field operations but is looking at avenues to best conduct in-person follow-ups with those who do not self respond to census questionnaires.
“We are adjusting our operations in the field where our workforce interacts directly with the public to keep the public and our employees healthy and safe. This includes shifting some of our special operations to when we can do it safely, such as the nonresponse- followup operation, when census takers interview households that have not already responded in person, to later so we can do it safely in accordance with public health authorities. Currently we are looking to start that in late May,” Barrett said. “We are still encouraging everyone to respond online, by phone or through the mail.”