Experts Warn That Census Bureau Must Work With Congress to Ensure Complete and Accurate Census in Wake of Coronavirus Crisis
Washington, D.C. (Apr. 15, 2020)—This week, leading experts provided a telephone briefing to 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 statutory deadlines by 120 days.
“The Census Bureau has an extremely difficult task in achieving a complete and accurate count while protecting Census workers and the American people during this public health crisis,” said Chairwoman Maloney. “The Committee will carefully examine the Administration’s request for Congress to pass a law delaying Census deadlines, but as these experts all agreed, the Census Bureau must work with Congress to provide a clear and robust plan to ensure that every person in America will be counted, including those in hard-to-reach communities.”
“The pandemic has upended operations across the federal government, and the 2020 Census is no exception,” said Subcommittee on Civil Right and Civil Liberties Chairman Raskin. “The Bureau must clearly take all necessary precautions to protect its workers and the public, but it must live up to our constitutional duty and maintain the integrity of the count. I am extremely concerned about the effect that extended delays might have on the ability of states to redistrict in time for the 2021 and 2022 elections. We will continue robust oversight of the Census to safeguard both our people involved in it and the laws of our democracy.”
The briefing included the following experts:
- John Thompson, former Director, Census Bureau
- Arturo Vargas, Chief Executive Officer, NALEO Educational Fund
- John Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice
- Terri Ann Lowenthal, leading Census consultant
Census experts provided the following information during the briefing:
- Census Bureau Must Work with Congress: The experts informed Members that it is critical for the Census Bureau to work closely with the Committee in the coming weeks and months, including on legislation requested by the Administration to delay key aspects of the Census. Mr. Thompson, who ran the Census Bureau from 2013 to 2017 and led much of the planning for the 2020 Census, emphasized that “it is more important than ever before to maintain a transparent dialogue with stakeholders and with the Congress.” He explained that the Census Bureau must be open with Congress “on how they spend their money, on how their recruiting is going, and if they need any change in regulation.”
- Boosting Self-Response is Key: In light of the Census Bureau’s plan to delay in-person counting by several months, the experts recommended several immediate steps to encourage self-response, including new mailings and advertisements targeted at hard-to-count communities. Mr. Vargas and Mr. Yang encouraged the Census Bureau to emphasize mail and phone response options, noting that these tend to be more popular in some minority communities. Mr. Vargas also warned that “the response rate in counties with a higher population of Latinos is currently about 20% lower than counties with lower populations of Latinos.”
- Delays Could Hurt Data Accuracy: Ms. Lowenthal, a leading Census consultant, warned that the delay in the Census caused by the coronavirus outbreak represented an “unprecedented disruption in the Census plan” and that the “quality and accuracy of the Census hang in the balance in every state and in a diversity of communities.” She explained that data accuracy tends to decline as we get further away from April 1, 2020, and that hurricane season in August through October could create new challenges for in-person counting.