PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The U.S. Census Bureau is behind schedule in getting responses for the 2020 Census.
Health concerns due to COVID-19 delayed the bureau’s door-knocking operation, which was supposed to begin on May 13. Bureau leaders say nationwide, it would not have been safe to go door-to-door, and plan to begin the operation on August 11.
The pandemic is a big reason filling out this year’s census will be even more important than before.
Jeff Behler, the New York regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, says many funding decisions are made using census formula data, and tougher decisions are coming.
“When you think about some important decisions that are going to be have to be be made by local officials coming up, whether it’s number of vaccines, do we need additional hospital beds, do we need additional clinics, do we need more ambulances or transportation to get people to and from health services?” he said.
“Let’s give them the most complete and accurate data, because this is really the one time a decade where we’re not creating a sample, we’re not projecting an estimate, we’re actually trying to count everyone living across the United States,” he continued.
Behler says data shows about 60.5% of Americans have filled out the 2020 Census so far. As of June 1, Rhode Island’s self-response rate is 58.6%.
“But I think it’s something to celebrate, given that fact Rhode Island, really the whole Northeast region, is at the epicenter of the COVID-19 virus,” Behler said.
With census takers running behind, getting people to fill out the census on their own is key.
“It boils down to representation and funding,” Behler said, noting Rhode Island is also at risk of losing a congressional seat. The number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on the latest census data.
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The results of the 2020 Census will help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding flow into communities every year for the next decade. The funding shapes different aspects of every city and town, no matter the size or location.
College students also need to be represented in the census, but many had to leave campus early and may not have received theirs in time.
“These students need to go online and fill out the census as if they were living at off-campus apartments,” Behler noted.
Data also shows some urban communities have a much lower self-response rate than the overall statewide response.
Behler said Central Falls is currently below 40%. He says this is in part due to there being more renters than owners, but there are also language barriers and fear of government to consider.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
“We can never release information at the person or household level,” Behler explained. “Homeland Security, ICE, IRS … they can never access our data at any time.”
The bureau is using the data it has so far to prioritize its resources on cities like Central Falls, according to Behler.
He says census partners in Rhode Island plan to organize outreach at places like libraries and churches, and the bureau gives community members resources needed to fill out the census in those settings.
“We’re also going to set up shop at laundromats and restaurants and bodegas in those areas,” Behler added. “Maybe they need language support, maybe they don’t understand how to fill out the census. Those are things we hope to do between now and August 11 to really boost up self- response rate.”
The deadline to provide counts to the president is December 31. Behler said the bureau is hoping to get a four-month extension due a late start in door-knocking.
You can respond to the census by mail, phone or through an online form.
The U.S. Census Bureau is also accepting applications for census takers, which pays $25 from August 11 through the end of October.