Census Director Briefs Committee on Impact of Coronavirus on Census
Washington, D.C. (April 27, 2020)— On Friday, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham and senior Census officials briefed Members of the Committee on Oversight and Reform on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the 2020 Census and the Trump Administration’s recent request for Congress to delay key statutory deadlines.
This briefing was previously scheduled for last Monday, but the Census Bureau abruptly postponed less than an hour before it was set to begin.
After Friday’s briefing, Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney issued the following statement:
“The Census Bureau has the difficult task of achieving a complete, accurate, and fair count while also protecting the health of census workers and the American public. After weeks of delays, the Bureau finally gave our Committee some details about their plans. I support the Bureau’s efforts in this challenging time, but the Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to determine how the Census is conducted. We expect the Bureau to work closely with us going forward so we can overcome this public health crisis and make the Census a success.”
Census Bureau officials provided the following information during the briefing:
- Census Director Says Congress “Absolutely Vital to Our Success.” Director Dillingham said that the decision to postpone the Committee briefing on Monday was a “mistake” made in the “haste and urgency of the moment.” The Director pledged that going forward, “we are going to work together,” and he committed to “regularly reporting” to the Oversight Committee and “being responsive and transparent.” He also committed to providing the Committee with a written explanation for the Bureau’s proposed delays.
- Census Bureau Planning “Phased” Restart of Operations. Albert E. Fontenot Jr., the Associate Director for Decennial Census Programs, explained that the Bureau is planning a “phased start to many of our census operations” rather than beginning field operations nationwide on June 1, 2020, as previously announced. He said operations could resume at different times in different areas of the country based on federal, state, and local public health guidance, as well as the availability of personal protective equipment. Mr. Fontenot noted that reopening mail processing centers and census offices were among the Bureau’s priorities. He said the Bureau would notify Congress as it begins to restart operations.
- State Redistricting Timelines Could Be Affected. Mr. Fontenot said that the Census Bureau is “working with counterparts in state offices” to determine which states may need to take legislative action delaying the re-drawing of political maps. New Jersey and Virginia hold off-year elections that could be affected by Bureau’s request to delay the delivery of redistricting data.
- Further Delays Possible. Mr. Fontenot said that the Bureau is currently planning to delay field operations 90 days and complete the count on October 31, 2020. However, he said the Bureau is asking Congress to delay statutory deadlines by 120 days to provide a cushion in case field operations need to extend even longer.
- Bureau Trying to Boost Self-Response. Ali Ahmad, the Associate Director for Communications at the Census Bureau, said the Bureau is seeking to increase outreach to minority and other hard-to-reach communities by increasing the paid media budget from $240 million to $320 million, expanding the number of languages in paid media from 14 to 40, and launching “hyper local” media outreach. Mr. Ahmad said the Bureau planned additional outreach efforts, including targeting communities that are self-responding at lower rates. Last week, Arturo Vargas of NALEO told the Committee that “the response rate in counties with a higher population of Latinos is currently about 20% lower than counties with lower populations of Latinos.”
- Few People Are Responding by Phone. Mr. Fontenot said the Bureau is exceeding projections for internet self-response, but that telephone self-response is lagging behind projections. Just 0.6% of people have responded by phone, compared to a projection of 6.8. Some people have complained of long wait times, but Bureau officials asserted that these had been corrected.
- Bureau Does Not Plan to Use All Available Funds. Ben Page, the Bureau’s Chief Financial Officer, said the Census Bureau currently anticipates using only $1.5 billion out of the $2 billion available in the Bureau’s contingency funds in connection with the delay in operations and response to the coronavirus outbreak.