NPO Execs Demand Feds Not Stop Census Early

Four months after asking Congress for an extension to complete the census, and with an estimated 40 percent of households left to count, the U.S. Census Bureau yesterday announced it will end the count a month early.

Close to 500 nonprofit leaders have penned a letter demanding that the federal government not “rush the significant enumeration and data processing that remain unfinished.” The move is seen as potentially undercounting minority neighborhoods and other hard-to-reach communities, especially during a pandemic. It is a task the U.S. Census Bureau previously told Congress it could not do without additional time.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced field data collection and self-response options will end by Sept. 30. “The Census Bureau intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to hard-to-count communities,” according to the announcement, which is in conflict with its April request to Congress.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, 93 million households, nearly 63 percent of all households in the nation, have responded to the 2020 Census.

“The bottom line is that shortening the census in the face of national public health and economic crises will result in inaccurate data, distorting the true picture of America for the next decade,” said Gary D. Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation in Washington, D.C., and chair of a national philanthropic collaborative to promote a fair and accurate census. “An inaccurate census is not an inevitable outcome. This letter is a nonpartisan plea to the Administration to fulfill its constitutional requirement to count every person in America.”

State and local funders have supported the 2020 census with a focus on historically undercounted communities, including people of color, low-income and immigrant families, and young children, according to Jocelyn Bissonnette, director of the Funders Census Initiative, which supports funders in their get out the count efforts. “Philanthropy has raised its voice at this critical moment because communities deserve to be fairly and accurately counted, resourced, and represented,” she said.

The executives stated in the letter: “Across our varied institutions, we share a belief that reliable and accurate data are a necessary foundation for a well-functioning government, robust civil society, and thriving business sector in the United States. We rely on accurate census data to help identify community needs and prioritize grantmaking, and our grantees and partners rely on accurate census data to advocate for and improve our communities, through their work on various issues, including poverty, health care, criminal justice reform, racial equity, education, homelessness and housing, and infrastructure.”

Several pundits have hypothesized that the administration is attempting to get an undercount prior to the election so that Congressional seats will be reapportioned in the next Congress, reducing the representation of low-income districts. It might also mean fewer dollars going into communities that were undercounted when funding is population based.

The nonprofit executives wrote to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and head of the census Steven Dillingham that “Rushing the census…would hurt a diverse range of rural and urban communities, leaving them underrepresented locally and in Congress and cutting their fair share of federal funding for Medicaid, economic development, child care, schools, road and public transit improvements, home heating assistance for senior citizens, and many more vital services.”

The full text of the letter and list of signatories can be found at https://funderscommittee.org/resource/letter-funder-letter-to-commerce-secretary/