Census 2020 Policy Update
June 30, 2020
To help ensure that our members, partners, and stakeholders have up-to-date information about Census 2020 during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, NALEO Educational Fund is providing bi-weekly Census 2020 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.
Census Bureau Continues Operational Adjustments and Phased-In Resumption of Field Operations
The Bureau continues to make adjustments in its operational plans for Census 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. First, the Bureau has provided additional information about the sixth mailing it intends to send to households who have not yet self-responded to Census 2020 online, by phone, or by mail. Unfortunately, the mailing, which will arrive between July 22 and 28, will only be a reminder postcard and not include a paper questionnaire. Given the state of relatively low self-response in heavily Latino areas (see “Self-Response” below), we are advocating for the mailing of a paper questionnaire, which data show would be a far more effective approach than a postcard reminder.
The Bureau will also initiate a mid-July “soft launch” of its Nonresponse Followup (NRFU) operation, where it interviews households that have not self-responded. It will conduct the soft launch in one area of each of its six regions to assess whether its operations and field plans can be conducted soundly, followed by a second soft launch wave in late July, and a plan to initiate NRFU nationwide on August 11 that will end by October 31. Given the relatively low response rates in communities with large concentrations of Latinos, the Bureau must effectively reach and count Latinos during NRFU if the 2020 Census is to succeed.
The Bureau had also delayed the count of persons experiencing homelessness, which it has now scheduled for September 22-24. Additionally, the Bureau has announced its revised schedule for the enumeration of persons at transitory locations, which includes many farmworkers. This count will occur September 3-28.
The Bureau has nearly completed its phased resumption of Update/Leave, the field operation where the Bureau simultaneously confirms a household’s physical address while leaving a census questionnaire with the household. Update/Leave is used to enumerate households in remote areas, rural areas, areas without traditional, city-style mailing addresses, and areas affected by disasters, including all of Puerto Rico. The Bureau continues to provide updated information on the areas where these operations have resumed. Households in Update/Leave must still self-respond; if they do not, they will be placed in the Nonresponse Followup workload.
Finally, the Bureau is also modifying its partnership program activities and mobile questionnaire assistance operations to ensure compliance with local public health requirements for any in-person contact. As part of its mobile questionnaire assistance operations, it is targeting direct outreach to neighborhoods with the lowest self-response rates.
More information about other adjustments in census operations can be found in our May 19th Census 2020 Policy Update and our June 4th Census 2020 Policy Update. It should be noted that because the public health environment is in flux, the Bureau is likely to make further adjustments. NALEO Educational Fund continues to carefully monitor the impact of all of these adjustments to assess their effect on the Latino response to Census 2020 (see “Self-Response” below).
We also continue to strongly urge that every household self-respond as a way to alleviate the challenges facing the Bureau brought on by the current public health crisis. 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.
Two New Political Appointees Join the Top Ranks of the Census Bureau
On June 23, the Census Bureau announced the appointment of Nathan Cogley, Ph.D. as Deputy Director for Policy, and Adam Korzeniewski, as Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy. Both of these appointees previously worked as advisors to the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Commerce. Dr. Cogley also formerly served as a department head at Tarleton State University in Texas. Mr. Korzeniewski is a Marine Corps veteran and a former Lead Census Manager in Queens, New York. Given the appointment of Dr. Cogley and Mr. Korzeniewski to newly-created top positions with undefined roles at the Bureau at this point in the decennial enumeration, NALEO Educational Fund will continue to closely monitor the work of the Bureau and urge Congressional oversight to ensure that there is a fair and accurate count of all of our nation’s population in Census 2020.
U.S. Government Accountability Office Issues Report on Delays and Risks to Census Count
On June 9, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report highlighting the delays and risks to the 2020 Census count presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to this report, the GAO had designated the 2020 Census as a “high-risk” activity, because of challenges the Bureau has encountered with innovations such as its information technology (IT) infrastructure, and the reliability of the Bureau’s cost estimates. The GAO has made several recommendations to the Bureau, which the Bureau has generally implemented.
The June GAO report focuses on several issues the Bureau must address to ensure the sound implementation of Census 2020, and the accuracy of the count. In summary, these areas include:
- Continued attention to self-response: The report noted that because of COVID-19 staffing shortages, the Bureau had experienced delays in its initial mailings. It also experienced reduced capacity for its call centers, which led to high call wait times and a significant rate of callers who abandoned their calls. The report noted that the Bureau had made progress in addressing these challenges. It also highlighted some of the disparities in the self-response rates in different regions of the country.
- Communicating pandemic plans to ensure continued operations: The report noted that while the Bureau has created contingency plans to deal with the pandemic, the agency should improve how it communicates information to its field offices “that is timely, clear, and consistent regarding operational changes and pay.” The report presented the findings of a survey of Area Census Office managers, where managers generally indicated they were satisfied with their ability to safely manage employees and operations but were less satisfied with the communication of pandemic guidance from the Bureau.
- Achieving and maintaining sufficient staffing levels: The report noted the Bureau may need to hire more field staff than anticipated to work within the time frames for its operations because of COVID-19 adjustments. This may involve the expeditious hiring and on-boarding of sufficient staff for the operations, and the acquisition of additional technology, such as the handheld devices needed to support NRFU. The report also highlighted the need for Bureau compliance with local public health guidance on worker safety and the need for planning for continuity of operations should a second wave of the pandemic occur, including the value of having telework-ready workforces in case new shelter-in-place restrictions are implemented.
- Revising approach to communications and partnerships: As noted in our June 4th Census 2020 Policy Update and acknowledged by the GAO, the Bureau has made several revisions to its communications approach that incorporate a “COVID-19 point of view.” The GAO report also highlighted the Bureau’s work in shifting many partnership activities from those involving face-to-face contact to virtual events. Additionally, it noted the need for more effective coordination between Partnership Specialists and local census office staff with respect to partnership work.
- Adjusting plans for group quarters and the count of persons experiencing homelessness: As part of its operational adjustments, the Bureau has delayed its enumeration of persons living in group quarters to run through September 3 (group quarters include residential quarters such as nursing homes, college and university student housing, residential treatment centers, group homes, correctional facilities, and domestic violence shelters). As noted above, the count of persons experiencing homelessness is now scheduled for September 22-24. The GAO report highlighted the risk that these delays may result in “recall bias” – the challenge of persons accurately remembering where they were living on April 1 – and the difficulties the delays may present for facilities to provide accurate data about their residents.
- Monitoring ongoing risks to IT systems implementation: In light of the complexity of the IT systems used to conduct Census 2020, the report highlighted the importance of the Bureau assessing the impact of its schedule changes on IT system implementation. The report noted that the Bureau raised the need to monitor the availability of contractor staff responsible for IT system performance testing.
- Managing disinformation and misinformation: The report highlighted concerns that disinformation and misinformation spread by traditional and social media could undermine the public’s trust in the confidentiality and privacy of Census 2020 responses. The report noted that the Bureau has coordinated with technology companies and social media partners to remove misleading content. The report recommended that the Bureau continue to provide a timely response to disinformation and misinformation events in order to protect the agency’s reputation and the integrity of the 2020 Census.
- Addressing cybersecurity weaknesses: The report acknowledged that the Bureau had made progress in taking expeditious, corrective action when cybersecurity weaknesses are discovered. However, it noted that “more work remains” with respect to the Bureau’s timely responsiveness in this area.
- Protecting the privacy of respondent data: The Bureau has implemented what is known as “differential privacy” statistical approaches that exist to protect the confidentiality of respondents’ data in publicly-released data products. These approaches exist so that when the Bureau releases data publicly, it does so without providing information that would allow the personal identification of anyone in a responding household. These efforts help protect households in very small geographic areas, for example, by preventing anyone from finding out personal information about household members after combing through census data alongside information from other sources like commercial data providers.
The report noted that the Bureau has not yet finalized decisions for the implementation of differential privacy and that the GAO would need to continue to monitor its implementation. Several voting rights advocates have been reviewing the Bureau’s differential privacy approach, raising concerns that it would result in the reporting of inaccurate data that could detrimentally affect the use of the data to ensure compliance with the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These advocates are engaged in a dialogue with the Bureau on this issue.
- Ensuring data quality under potentially compressed time frames: As discussed below in “Congressional Action on Extension of Apportionment and Redistricting Deadlines,” the Trump Administration has requested a 120-day extension of the deadlines for delivering apportionment data to the President and redistricting data to the states. The report noted that the Bureau must conduct several activities to process Census 2020 data after its collection, and highlighted that the statutory changes sought by the Administration are needed for the Bureau to conduct its post-collection activities effectively.
- Evaluating the impact of census delays on data quality: The report raised concerns that the pandemic may affect the quality of data collected in NRFU door-to-door interviews, as well as the data collected in the Bureau’s Post-Enumeration Survey (PES). The Bureau conducts the PES independent of Census 2020 operations and obtains data from a sample of households after the decennial enumeration to help assess the quality of Census 2020 data and determine the undercount and overcount rates of certain population groups. The report also noted the importance of the Bureau’s evaluation efforts and the fact that the Bureau is pursuing efforts to identify new ways to assess and ensure quality, both during and after data collection.
NALEO Educational Fund is actively engaged in assessing the Bureau’s progress with respect to the issues the GAO report raised while continuing to advocate for the Bureau to address these concerns.
NALEO Educational Fund continues to track census response rates both for the overall population and areas with large concentrations of Latinos. As of June 26, 2020, the national response rate was 61.7 percent. We continue to see several indicators that Latino self-response rates are lower than the national rate. 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. Additionally, census tracts in which Latinos are the most numerous population group, the average response rate is 46.8 percent, more than 14.9 percentage points behind the national average. The national response rate is not an indication of how many people have been counted in the census; it is the rate of census participation of known households (addresses that are on the Census Bureau’s Master Address File).
Our internal analysis also reveals that as of June 26, 2020, on average, the higher the Latino share of a county’s population, the lower its self-response rate. 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 have the lowest self-response rates.
Congressional Action on Extension of Apportionment and Redistricting Deadlines; Contingency Funding
The U.S. House of Representatives included provisions to extend the deadlines for the delivery of apportionment and redistricting data to the dates requested by the Administration in its May COVID-19 stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, which passed the House on May 15. The U.S. Senate must now take action on the proposed extension. While it is unclear whether the Senate will take action on the HEROES Act, we believe it will at least enact its own version of a COVID-19 relief package, and we are advocating for the inclusion of an extension of the deadlines in that legislation. In addition, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) have introduced standalone legislation that would extend the deadlines. As is the case with House standalone legislation extending the deadlines, H.R. 7034, the Harris-Schatz bill includes transparency and accountability requirements for the Bureau in reporting on its Census 2020 activities. The bill would also appropriate $400 million to augment the Bureau’s $2 billion FY 2020 contingency fund, which will enable the Bureau to better address challenges arising from the impact of the pandemic on its operations. We successfully advocated for the inclusion of this appropriation in the HEROES Act, and we will continue to advocate for its inclusion in the Senate version of a COVID-19 relief package.
For more information about the HEROES Act, H.R. 7034, and the extension of apportionment and redistricting data delivery deadlines, see our May 19th Census 2020 Policy Update, and our June 4th Census 2020 Policy Update
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 (202) 360-4154.
To receive updates and stay connected with NALEO Educational Fund’s ¡Hágase Contar! and ¡Hazme Contar! campaigns, you can join our subscriber list by texting “CENSUS” to 97779. For more information on how and when to fill out the 2020 Census or to report misinformation or disinformation, you can visit our website hagasecontar.org or call our national bilingual hotline at 877-EL-CENSO.