Census 2020 Policy Update

May 19, 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 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 critical components of the decennial enumeration – the following summary highlights the most significant changes affecting the count of the Latino community. However, because the public health environment is in flux, the Bureau will likely make further adjustments in the future:

  • Self-response: Households will be able to self-respond online, 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 finished mailing 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 that 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: During the Update Leave operation, 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. 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). Additionally, in a letter to key Members of Congress, we are advocating for several enhancements to census operations that 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 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.



    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 step is an important milestone for this census as before enumeration began, significant numbers of Latino survey respondents indicated 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 May 18, 2020, the national response rate is 59.6 percent. While this means the Census Bureau is drawing close to achieving its overall response goal of 60.5 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. Additionally, in census tracts in which Latinos are the most numerous population group, the average response rate is 45.1 percent, more than 14.5 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. Our analysis reveals that as of May 19, 2020, 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.

    It should be noted that because a significant number of Latinos live in tracts being enumerated through the Update Leave process, which the Bureau has not fully implemented, Latino self-response rates overall and in those areas will not yet begin increasing significantly. A very salient example is Puerto Rico, where the Bureau will conduct all enumeration through Update Leave and has announced that it will just restart those operations on May 22. As of May 19, 2020, the self-response rate in Puerto Rico is 8.3 percent. 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, which will determine the number of congressional seats apportioned to each state. Additionally, under federal law, the Bureau must deliver the population counts that states and localities need to conduct redistricting by April 1, 2021. Because of the challenges the Bureau is facing amid COVID-19, the Administration has requested that Congress extend the deadline for the delivery of apportionment data to April 30, 2021, and the deadline for delivery of redistricting data to July 31, 2021. These extensions would apply to Census 2020 data compilation. 

    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 approve 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 finalize a map by the end of July 2021, which coincides with the 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


    In a letter addressing congressional action on the extension of the deadlines, the NALEO Educational Fund 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 on the ability of states and localities to carry out redistricting fairly and in compliance with critical 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 directing it to work on only necessary projects, including conducting the decennial Census, and sustaining routine efforts on data products such as the American Community Survey that must be fielded on a continuing basis.

    Additionally, we continue to advocate for the Bureau to brief Congress fully and frequently with transparency and accountability on 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 the phased resumption of its field operations.

    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 Census Bureau. With respect to redistricting data, the legislation directs the Bureau to provide the data as expeditiously as possible after April 1, 2020, taking into account states’ deadlines for legislative apportionment and redistricting, with a final deadline of July 31, 2021. The HEROES Act would also 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;
    • Tabulated responses by Hispanic origin and race;
    • NRFU and Update Leave completion rates by geographic area; and
    • Spending on communications and partnership activities by geographic area.

    Additionally, the HEROES Act includes provisions intended to prevent the Administration from manipulating apportionment data once the Bureau finalizes it. The Act also sets forth provisions that aim to ensure the Bureau focuses on the ever more challenging task of producing necessary decennial data that are as accurate and reliable as were 2010 Census data. We continue to be closely involved in developing language in the Act related to census matters, and will actively advocate for the Senate’s adoption of these provisions.


    Census Bureau Appropriations and Spending

    The Census Bureau has not yet requested any additional funding for the current fiscal year (FY20). However, the Bureau does currently expect to spend more than previously anticipated in FY20: approximately $700 million more for COVID-19-related expenses like 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. The HEROES Act appropriates an additional $410 million for the Bureau to use to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    If the Census Bureau does use more of its contingency funds 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 (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.