Census 2020 Policy Update

June 4, 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.


Bureau Operational Adjustments and Phased-In Resumption of Field Operations

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau suspended its field operations and made adjustments in its schedule for several activities, which included extending operational deadlines. In early May, the Bureau started a phased-in 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 typically used to enumerate households in remote areas, rural areas, or areas without traditional, city-style mailing addresses. As of this writing, the Bureau’s resumption of Update/Leave includes regions with significant Latino populations, including Puerto Rico. 

Many of the Bureau’s other operational adjustments could also have a significant impact on the decennial count of Latinos. For example, the Bureau’s Transitory Locations enumeration counts people residing at locations where residents are unlikely to live year-round, such as farmworker housing, campgrounds, recreational vehicle parks, and hotels. The Bureau conducts this enumeration in-person by visiting the locations where people are living. Before the pandemic, the Bureau scheduled this enumeration for April 9 – May 4, but it has tentatively postponed it to  September 3 – September 28 and has noted this enumeration needs further review and coordination.

The Bureau also typically counts people experiencing homelessness by working with service providers such as soup kitchens or shelters, or by visiting homeless encampments or outdoor living areas. The Bureau had initially scheduled this enumeration for March 30 – April 1, but it has suspended the activity. It is conducting a review and consulting with partners and stakeholders to determine the best time to move forward with this count. 

More information about other adjustments in census operations can be found in our May 19th 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 in the future. 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.



NALEO Educational Fund continues to track census response rates both for the overall population and areas with large concentrations of Latinos. As of June 2, 2020, the national response rate was 60.5 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, in census tracts in which Latinos are the most numerous population group, the average response rate is 45.2 percent, more than 15.3 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 2, 2020, on average, the higher the Latino share of a county’s population is, 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. Moreover, counties whose populations are 75 percent or more Latino tend to be the most undercounted.


Census Bureau Adapts Mailing and Communications Strategies to Respond to Pandemic

The Census Bureau is adapting its mailing and communications approaches to enhance its ability to promote self-response during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, the Bureau has indicated that it plans to send out a sixth mailing sometime in the summer to households that have not yet responded. In addition, the Bureau has incorporated COVID-19-centric content in its communications messaging, including ads highlighting pandemic recovery, support for first responders, and completing the census while “staying at home.” The COVID-19-related English-language ads began running in April, and Spanish-language ads with this messaging began running on May 18.

The Bureau is also changing its strategies to take into account shifting trends in the types of news and entertainment programming the public is viewing. In addition, the Bureau is adapting its approaches in light of the fact that people are accessing more digital information through a variety of sources, including streaming audio, social networks, mobile device apps, and virtual events, such as concerts or commencement exercises. The Bureau is also implementing approaches to reach people at places they are likely to visit while stay at home orders are in effect, such as grocery stores or gas stations.

To implement its COVID-19 pandemic communications strategy, the Bureau has increased its total paid media budget from $240 million to $323 million and expanded the number of languages supported through its efforts from 13 to 45. And through our advocacy work, NALEO Educational Fund has consistently urged the Bureau to implement a campaign targeted at English-dominant Latinos, which the Bureau has now launched through broadcast, print, and digital media. We will continue to work closely with the Bureau as it continues its communications efforts throughout Census 2020.

On May 28, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order purporting to address ”online censorship” by social media companies. The Order appears to be aimed at weakening legal protections for companies when they remove or restrict objectionable content. The President apparently issued the Executive Order in part to respond to Twitter’s decision to flag some of his Tweets as potentially misleading (claims about fraudulent vote-by-mail balloting) or as glorifying violence (comments about potential federal action in response to protests against the death of George Floyd). The Order directs the heads of several federal agencies to start an administrative process that would result in Federal Communications Commission guidelines on how social media platforms can restrict access to content. The Order also directs each federal department and agency to review its spending on online platform advertising and marketing. It is unclear what kind of impact the Order will have on the Census Bureau’s communications strategy, which extensively utilizes paid advertising on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and we are monitoring this issue closely.


Congressional Action on Extension of Apportionment and Redistricting Deadlines

On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a COVID-19 stimulus bill (the ‘‘Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act’’ or the ‘‘HEROES Act’’) that included several provisions affecting Census 2020. The bill would extend the deadlines for the delivery of apportionment and redistricting data to the dates requested by the Administration. The census provisions also require the Bureau to provide regular updates to congressional oversight and appropriations committees addressing the progress of the Bureau in several operational areas (for more information about the HEROES Act and the extension of apportionment and redistricting data delivery deadlines, see our May 19th Census 2020 Policy Update). 

On May 27, key members of the U.S. House Oversight Reform and Oversight Committee, including Vice Chair Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) introduced H.R. 7034, the “Fair and Accurate Census Act.” This legislation is a stand-alone bill which would also extend the deadlines for delivery of apportionment and redistricting data to the dates requested by the Administration. As is the case with the HEROES Act, this bill would require the Bureau to provide monthly reports to congressional oversight and appropriations committees addressing the progress the Bureau is making in several operational areas including:

  • Field staff hiring and retention;
  • Call center wait times by language;
  • NRFU and Update/Leave completion rates by geographic area; and
  • Spending on communications and partnership activities by geographic area. 

Additionally, H.R. 7034 includes provisions that ensure transparency in the transfer of apportionment data from the Bureau to Congress; and safeguard the resources the Census Bureau needs to achieve a complete and accurate count, without any unnecessary distractions or diversions of funds. 

We continue to work closely with Members of Congress to advance the HEROES Act census provisions in the Senate and to promote the provisions of H.R. 7034 in the House. NALEO Educational Fund is also supporting S. 2333, introduced by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), which would nullify the June 2019 Executive Order issued by President Trump, directing the Bureau to create a database containing information about the immigration and citizenship status of residents from administrative records maintained by government agencies and other entities. The President issued this order in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which halted the addition of citizenship question to Census 2020, and the Administration envisions making the database available to states, who may choose to use it for redistricting purposes. 

NALEO Educational Fund opposes the creation of the Executive Order’s immigration and citizenship file because of concerns about the significant inaccuracies in administrative record data, the unreliability of the Bureau’s statistical model for ascertaining immigration status, and the serious potential of harm to Latino civil and voting rights that could result from the use of information in the database. We anticipate that in early June, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) will introduce a companion bill to  S. 2333 in the U.S. House. In September 2019, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a suit challenging the Executive Order, claiming it seeks to dilute minority voting strength while increasing white representation. The suit is pending in the U.S. district court in Maryland.

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 national bilingual website hagasecontar.org or call 877-EL-CENSO.