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Features & Columns

Trump Administration Decision to End Census Early Could Lead to Fewer People of Color Included

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Trump Administration Decision to End Census Early Could Lead to Fewer People of Color Included

2020-08-10 18:43:56

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: 2020 Census sign (Image source: Blervis via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Trump administration's abrupt decision to end the census one month early is going to have an effect on counting the people of color. This means their communities could lose out on federal funding and political representation.

The coronavirus pandemic had already interrupted the efforts to reach some of the hardest areas to count. Urgent persuasion campaigns are being put together by nonprofits and community activists to try and get everyone counted within that shortened time. There are plans to drive through neighborhoods with bullhorns, advertising in areas where a response is needed, and phone banks.

"We're in the middle of a global pandemic, and they might be shortchanging every Latino community for 10 years to come. This is cruel," said Lizette Escobedo. She leads the census program for the nonpartisan NALEO Educational Fund for Latino rights.

This seems to be more in Donald Trump's arsenal as he continues to show he doesn't value the voice of people of color in a community. The census dictates how federal funds will be allocated and influences funding for infrastructure and education programs such as free and reduced lunch. Legislative district boundaries are decided through census data as well. 

Census Bureau workers typically visit people who do not report their information on their own. The pandemic caused the government to extend the deadline for in-person followup from mid-August to October 31. Last week, however, the administration abruptly changed the deadline to September 30.

The law ensures that the final census count is handed to the president by December 31. Census Bureau officials have said the deadline was moved up in part to meet that date.

Escobedo and others believe moving the date up was out of a desire to politically suppress the communities with people of color. These communities traditionally vote more Democratic.

The administration has been accused of politicizing the census through several attempts. The Supreme Court stopped the administration from adding a question to the census last year, asking people if they are citizens. It was believed that this would discourage undocumented people from participating, yet another group that traditionally votes more Democratic.

Trump signed a memorandum last month in support of excluding the number of undocumented immigrants in the country from the count that will be used to decide legislative district boundaries. The American Civil Liberties Union and a few other groups and a coalition of state attorneys general have filed lawsuits to block this action.

A quartet of previous Census Bureau directors testified at a hearing last month that stripping a month from the time frame will lead to an inaccurate count. A partnership between the Census Bureau and U.S. states and territories also opposes the earlier end date, according to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the chairman of the House Oversight subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties.

"At this point, we're seeing an undercount of Black communities everywhere. Deep undercounts of places in the South," said Rashad Robinson, the president of the nonprofit Color of Change, a group whose goal it is to maximize the census count in Black communities.

"As COVID continues to rip through those communities, it is a very challenging thing to see communities that absolutely need resources that could be left out."

The National Congress of American Indians joined other indigenous rights groups to denounce the shortened deadline. "Our tribal nations and tribal communities have been ravaged by COVID-19, and an extension of the Census enumeration period was a human lifeline during an unprecedented global health catastrophe," said the groups in a statement. "An inaccurate Census count will decimate our ability to advocate for necessary services for our most vulnerable communities."

One in four Texans live in hard-to-count areas that are rural, with poverty and a lack of Internet, which lessens census participation, according to Katie Martin Lightfoot, coordinator of the Texas Counts campaign, an informal committee. Data shows Latinos have the lowest response rate across the state. It's been estimated that even a 1 percent undercount would lead to a $300 million loss per year for the next decade.

While some states dedicate millions of dollars to census outreach, the Texas state legislature provides none. That left it up to local nonprofits and philanthropic groups to do the outreach.

"Think about COVID-19 and the pandemic and how much we're relying on these resources now. And people are still going to need those services, and that burden will fall on the state and the local governments," said Lightfoot.

California is one of those states spending on outreach, to the tune of $187 million. Still, officials there say the quicker deadline will bring significant challenges, but they are confident about their response rate so far.

"The next few months are very critical. Our job is made more difficult with some of the most recent actions by the federal government, and so we want to focus on tactics that are showing to be really effective, like phone banking with a patch through to the U.S. Census Bureau," said Maricela Rodriguez, a worker from California Gov. Gavin Newson's (D) office.

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