Washington, D.C. (Sept. 11, 2020)—Yesterday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing on the need for legislative action to extend the statutory deadlines for the Census in light of the coronavirus crisis.
Chairwoman Maloney and Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chairman Jamie Raskin also released a series of staff reports warning that states with an undercount of just 1% in the 2020 Census—including states with significant populations who vote Republican—stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding every year unless the Senate extends the statutory deadlines to address delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Committee heard testimony from Stacey Carless, Executive Director of the NC Counts Coalition; Stephen Roe Lewis, Governor of the Gila River Indian Community; J. Christopher Mihm, Managing Director, Strategic Issues Team, Government Accountability Office; John H. Thompson, Former Director of the Census Bureau (2013-2017); and Hans A. von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Ms. Carless and Governor Lewis implored their Republican Senators from North Carolina and Arizona to extend the statutory deadlines for the 2020 Census so their states can receive the full federal funding to which they are entitled.
- Ms. Carless: “Senator Tillis and Senator Burr, I urge you to support a later deadline for 2020 Census operations. Too much is at stake for North Carolina for us to risk a complete and accurate count—$44 billion, a 14th congressional seat, and essential data to help guide allocation of resources and services for North Carolinians across our state. Senator Tillis, you advocated for North Carolina’s soldiers and Marines to be counted in the decennial census as residents of the state, regardless of whether or not they are deployed abroad. Unfortunately, the counties that are home to military families are underperforming, leaving military families at risk of losing resources that would help support military personnel and their families."
- Governor Lewis: “I would tell my Republican delegation, out of respect, the same thing that I would tell all congressional members: the Census should not be a political or partisan issue. The Census is too important to all tribal nations, states, and local governments who rely on federal funding to provide for the basic needs of our citizens. The low response rates that are currently being reported are just as detrimental to those states deemed ‘red states’ or those deemed ‘blue states.’ In fact, the recent rankings of state responses place more red states in the bottom 20 than blue states.”
States with large Republican voting populations stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding over the next decade if the Senate does not act to extend statutory deadlines.
- Ms. Carless: “Our state really needs every dollar we are entitled to to support infrastructure, resources, and programs for our growing population. Also, I think the current pandemic really magnifies the importance of government programs such as the housing assistance and food and nutrition programs, which all relate back to the census. So right now in North Carolina, there are 1 million utility customers and renters at risk of utility disconnection and eviction, as well as applications for food assistance programs have increased by 15%. And unemployment is high. North Carolina is going to need every dollar we are entitled to as our state recovers from the financial hardships of this pandemic.”
- Governor Lewis: “There is an individual, a family, and a community behind each of those numbers … that will be irreparably harmed by the undercount that would be anticipated. And again, the undercount anticipated for the 2020 Census is much greater, given the pandemic disruption of census operations.”
- Governor Lewis also described how an undercount directly affected his tribal community’s ability to receive federal coronavirus aid: “The Gila community had an undercount of approximately 8,000 tribal members [in the 2010 Census]. This resulted in tens of millions of dollars not being allocated to our tribal government to provide for our citizens during this pandemic. But some tribal nations had a population count so skewed that they received little or no money to combat COVID-19 in their tribal communities from the population allocation. And these are impacts that will be with us for decades, not just one year, or one COVID relief package.”
Without action by the Senate, the Census Bureau is being forced to cut critical data collection and processing measures, compromising the accuracy and completeness of the 2020 Census.
- Mr. Thompson: “I am extremely concerned that the actions that have been taken to truncate 2020 Census data collection activities by September 30, 2020 will adversely affect the quality and accuracy of the 2020 Census.”
- Mr. Thompson: “If the actions described in the document that the Committee recently released are actually what is being implemented by the Census Bureau, it is clear that quality is being sacrificed in order to meet the September 30, 2020 deadline. … The Census Bureau has stated that the time allotted for subject matter expert review and software error remediation has been compressed by cutting 21 days from the schedule. This is alarming because the well-developed plans for this phase of post-data collection processing were based on extensive planning. The likelihood of a serious computer error that goes undetected is very high.”
- Mr. Mihm: “We are concerned both from the pressure that’s put to get out of the field—the reduction by one month from the end of October to the end of September—and the reduction of about from 150 days to about 90 days in order to do the processing. Both of those, either one of them would be a very difficult lift, the two together could be an extraordinary one for the Census Bureau.”
If the Senate does not extend the statutory deadlines, the 2020 Census could be the first in history to fail to meet historic accuracy and completeness standards .
- Mr. Mihm: “[T]he Census Bureau will complete a Census. It’s a question, and the risk is, what will be lost. Will it be a less than historically acceptable count in terms of completeness and in terms of accuracy? And that’s the big worry that I think everyone faces. … I think it will be an enormous challenge for the Census Bureau to deliver counts that meet the increasing historical demands for accuracy and completeness. … I think the great worry now is whether or not this would be a census that takes a step back due to the compressed timeframe and due to COVID-19 and the other challenges they’re running into.”
Rural areas have low enumeration rates because they are experiencing “almost a perfect storm” of operational difficulties.
- Mr. Mihm testified in response to a question from Republican Committee Member Jody Hice that, “in some cases … it’s just—almost a perfect storm. Certainly the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the Bureau’s ability to, first, in terms of recruiting people. They’re also having problems with turnover—their turnover estimates were about 10 percent, which are people who come into training but do not actually begin work—it’s actually running almost double that. They’re also having trouble obviously with people being willing to open their doors and talk, even though they practice PPE and are keeping a 6 foot distance. The big challenge that the Census Bureau runs into is getting that last 2, 3 percent of the population. For a 10-week operation in non-response follow-up, it’s not uncommon for the last 4 weeks to be going after the 2% of the population. That’s an important point—both because we want everyone counted, but because that’s where we make sure those hardest-to-count, hardest-to-enumerate communities are actually included in the Census.”