May 19, 2020

To help ensure that our members, partners and stakeholders have up-to-date information about Census 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, NALEO Educational Fund is providing bi-weekly Census Policy Updates.  These Updates will also highlight opportunities to advocate effectively for a full and accurate count of the Latino community in the 2020 Census. 

Delays in Census Operations

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the Census Bureau’s schedule of operations for Census 2020, particularly for operations that would typically involve in-person contact with households.  As of this writing, the Bureau has delayed the start of its field operations and extended the deadlines for several activities.  These adjustments affect several important components of the decennial enumeration – the following summary highlights the most significant adjustments affecting the count of the Latino community.  However, because the public health environment is in flux, it is likely that the Bureau will make further adjustments in the future:

  • Self-response:  Households will be able to self-respond on-line, by phone or by mail through October 31, 2020.  At the end of April, the Bureau finished mailing questionnaires to households that had not self-responded, and by   May 9, the Bureau completed a mailing of postcards to non-responding households. 
  • NRFU: The Bureau will conduct Nonresponse Followup (NRFU) between August 11 and October 31.  NRFU has typically involved a visit by a Census enumerator to households which have not responded; we are closely monitoring the Bureau’s assessment of the public health environment to see if the Bureau will change the nature of this contact when NRFU commences. 
  • Update Leave:  In the Update Leave operation, the Bureau simultaneously confirms a household’s physical address and leaves a Census questionnaire with the household.  Update Leave is typically used to enumerate households in remote or rural areas, where households do not have traditional city-style mailing addresses.  The Bureau delayed the start of Update Leave, and is commencing it in a phased-in manner, starting in certain regions where it has deemed that the public health environment and operational considerations make it feasible.

NALEO Educational Fund is carefully monitoring changes in Census operations, and their effect on the Latino response to the Census (see “Self-Response” below).  In addition, in a letter [link to come] [RG1] to key Members of Congress, we are advocating for several enhancements to Census operations to support a fair and accurate Census 2020 count.  These enhancements include additional self-response mailings; changes to the messaging and strategies of the Bureau’s Integrated Communications Plan; expanded capacity for Census questionnaire assistance; and expanded support and guidance for community outreach efforts.

We also continue to strongly urge every household to self-respond as a way to alleviate the challenges facing the Bureau brought on by the pandemic. Households can self-respond to the Census online here or by phone in English at 844-330-2020 or in Spanish at 844-468-2020.

Self-Response

At the end of April, the Census Bureau finished sending paper forms to all known households in self-response areas that had not yet submitted their information.  This is an important milestone for this Census:  before enumeration began, significant numbers of Latino survey respondents indicated that they would prefer to use paper forms over the internet to correspond with the Census Bureau.  Analysts have noticed larger-than-usual day-to-day increases in response rates from tracts in which households have just received a paper form for the first time.

As of  ____, the nationwide response rate is ___ percent.  While this means that the Census Bureau is drawing closer to achieving its overall response goal of 60 percent, there are significant differences between different parts of the country, which suggest that Latino self-response is lagging.  For example, a larger share of households in tracts that received English-language Census mailings have responded than the share of households in tracts that received bilingual English and Spanish mailings.  In addition, in Census tracts in which Latinos are the most numerous population group, the average response rate is ___ percent, more than ___ percentage points behind the national average. 

NALEO Educational Fund’s internal analysis also continues to indicate that Latinos have submitted Census responses at disproportionately low rates.  According to our analysis as of ____, on average, the higher the Latino share of a county’s population is, the lower its self-response rate is today.  Thus, counties whose populations are less than 20 percent Latino tend to have notably higher Census response rates than counties whose populations are majority-Latino, and counties whose populations are 75 percent or more Latino tend to be the most undercounted.

In this connection, it should be noted that because a significant number of Latinos live in tracts being enumerated through Update Leave, Latino self-response rates overall and in those areas will not start to increase significantly until the Bureau fully implements Update Leave.  A very salient example is Puerto Rico, where the Bureau is conducting all enumeration through Update Leave; the Bureau is in the process of determining when it will start Update Leave in the Commonwealth.  As of __________, the self-response rate in Puerto Rico is ___.  NALEO Educational Fund will continue to monitor self-response rates closely to assess the extent to which changes in Bureau operations are impairing the ability to obtain a fair and accurate count of the Latino population.

Extension of Statutory Deadlines for Apportionment and Redistricting Data

Under federal law, the Census Bureau must deliver the total population count for each state to the President by December 31, 2020 and these counts determine the number of Congressional seats apportioned to each state.  In addition, under federal law, the Bureau must deliver the population counts states and localities need to conduct redistricting by April 1, 2021.  Because of the challenges the Bureau is facing from the pandemic, the Administration has requested that Congress extend the deadline for the delivery of the apportionment data to April 30, 2021, and the deadline for delivery of redistricting data to July 31, 2021.  These extensions would apply to the compilation of data from Census 2020. 

The proposed extensions would have a significant impact on state and local redistricting, particularly where laws and legislative calendars would normally require redistricting to occur in late spring or summer of 2021.  For example, Texas law puts redistricting in the hands of the state legislature, which is to vote upon new maps during its first regular session after a decennial Census.  However, the Texas legislature’s 2021 regular session is currently scheduled to end on May 31, 2021, by which time the state may not yet have received data from the Census Bureau.  In California, where the Citizens Redistricting Commission draws Congressional and state legislative lines, the state’s Constitution essentially requires the Commission to decide upon a final map by the end of July 2021, which coincides with deadline for delivery of redistricting data.  This schedule would not permit the Commission the time needed to analyze the data, obtain public input on maps, and ensure the maps meet federal and state requirements. 

Moreover, delays in redistricting could affect the ability of jurisdictions to conduct regularly scheduled elections in 2021 and 2022 with new district lines.  Thus, policymakers, advocates and community groups are in the process of assessing how the proposed changes in the delivery of redistricting data will affect a broad range of redistricting and election policies.

Congressional Action on Extension of Apportionment and Redistricting Deadlines

Some Members, including House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, have signaled support for the Administration’s legislative request to extend the apportionment and redistricting data delivery deadlines.  At the same time, Members are likely to propose and champion additional provisions in legislation authorizing the extension of the deadlines, aimed at ensuring the Census Bureau’s accountability and responsiveness to Congressional inquiries. 

In a letter addressing Congressional action on the extension of the deadlines, the NALEO Educational Fund has urged Congress to:

  • Thoroughly evaluate the implications of the Bureau’s operational delays for the accuracy of the Census 2020 count;
  • Assess the consequences of the proposed extension of apportionment and redistricting deadlines for the ability of states and localities to carry out redistricting fairly and in in compliance with important protections for minority voting rights;
  • Examine the need for enhancements to the Bureau’s operational plan to ensure the success of Census 2020; and
  • Focus the Bureau on its core mission by prohibiting its work on the block-level citizenship voting age file the President ordered to be created in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which halted the addition of the citizenship question to the Census 2020 questionnaire.

In addition, we are advocating for the Bureau to brief Congress fully and frequently to provide transparency and accountability about the way the Bureau is using its resources to address the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 Census, and to inform the public about issues such as phased resumption of its field operations.   We understand that Members of Congress are considering including similar provisions in their legislation[RG2] .

Census Bureau Appropriations and Spending

The Census Bureau has not yet requested any additional funding for the current fiscal year (FY20).  The Bureau does currently expect to spend more than previously anticipated in FY20:  approximately $700 million more for COVID-19 related expenses such as paid leave for ill employees and personal protective equipment for enumerators; and approximately $810 million more for expenses stemming from the delayed timeline, including extensions of leases and employment contracts and placement of additional advertising.  The Bureau will pay for these expenses from its contingency fund, which totaled approximately $2 billion as of the beginning of 2020.

It is possible that the Census Bureau will need access to more contingency funding in FY20 than it has available.  Potential reasons for additional spending include in-language advertising expansions to redress systemic disparities in response rates; additional call center staffing; operational innovations including extra enumerator visits to leave door tags to “schedule” contact visits; and further disruptions to field operations due to surges in COVID-19 cases or natural disasters.  It may be helpful for advocates to request more funding for the Census Bureau in COVID-19 relief legislation even if the Bureau itself declines to do so, because it may become more difficult to secure additional funding in the future.  Any unneeded funds can be returned to the Treasury after the Census is complete.

If the Census Bureau does use more of its contingency fund in FY20, it will need to increase its FY21 funding request.  The Bureau’s budget for FY21 assumes that the agency will spend nearly $390 million in previously-allocated contingency funds to supplement its request for $1.67 billion in discretionary appropriations.  NALEO Educational Fund is actively engaged in advocacy around FY21 appropriations, and will continue to monitor this issue closely.

For more information about this Policy Update, or NALEO Educational Fund’s Census 2020 policy efforts, please contact Ms. Erin Hustings, Legislative Counsel at [email protected] or [Erin, OK to use your cellphone?].  [Lizette, please add just a sentence or two about how folks can get involved in our Hagase Contrar efforts].


 [RG1]This would be the sign-on letter the Leadership Conference is circulating on enhancements to Bureau operations

 [RG2]May need to tweak depending on timing of newsletter.

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