The Insights Association joined with nearly 900 other organizations in the Census Project coalition on August 6 in support of adding a provision to the next COVID-19 relief bill to extend the legal deadlines for census data reporting and give the Census Bureau time to complete the 2020 Census.

The Census Bureau has faced unprecedented challenges to census operations this year, thanks to the pandemic, with the headcount extending into the next fiscal year (making our advocacy for FY21 funding, in testimony and with our coalition, even more essential than usual). IA had been focused on securing supplemental funding for the 2020 Census to deal with those challenges. Sadly, the White House has provided yet another challenge.

Back in the spring, the Administration had sought "statutory relief from Congress of 120 additional calendar days to deliver final apportionment counts. Under this plan, the Census Bureau would extend the window for field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020." However, last week it became clear that the White House wanted to reverse course and rush the census, ending all counting operations a month early (by September 30). This would cut off non-response follow-up and other counting activities, despite the national self-response rate only being 63.2 percent as of today, and many counties across the country at less than 30 percent. Some speculate that the rush is driven in hopes that the Administration can effect a July 21 Presidential Memorandum to exclude illegal immigrants from the apportionment counts (the census data results used to divvy up Congressional districts).

While the Insights Association has no position on the memo, we are vitally concerned that the census rush will yield unreliable and inaccurate data, fowling up every statistically-representative study across the United States for the next decade, including the ongoing American Community Survey (ACS, formerly known as the census long form).

IA's VP Advocacy, Howard Fienberg, urged the Senate to "approve an extension in their COVID relief bill or risk severe undercounts in both urban cores and remote rural areas."

The Insights Association is also furiously organizing a letter from the business community in support of extending the deadlines to help bolster our case.

Read the full letter from the Insights Association and the Census Project coalition as a PDF or below:

We, the undersigned census stakeholders, are writing to urge you to include imperative language in the next Senate COVID relief package that would extend the statutory reporting deadlines for the 2020 Census by four months.

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many facets of American life, including the 2020 Census. Earlier this year, the pandemic compelled the U.S. Census Bureau to suspend field activities and postpone key operations, including the critical Non-Response Follow Up (NRFU) phase in which census takers visit more than 30 percent of households that have not responded on their own, to collect information in person. Only weeks ago, senior expert career Census Bureau staff said unequivocally that they could not responsibly finish their work in time to complete the NRFU operation and compile, analyze, and disseminate apportionment data by the statutorily required December 31, 2020 deadline. Accordingly, the Secretary of Commerce wisely requested that Congress extend the reporting deadlines for apportionment and redistricting data, so that the Census Bureau could complete in-person visits and other special counting operations for the nonhousehold population (including people experiencing homelessness; people living in transitory locations such as RV parks and motels; and people living in group facilities such as nursing homes and college dorms) and deliver reliable apportionment and redistricting data to the Congress and states. Now the administration is suggesting that this painstaking work can be done by the legally required deadlines.

Unfortunately, a rushed census will harm every state. Currently, there are low response areas in every part of the country, in every state, in every city. If remaining counting operations are not done well, communities most in need of resources to improve quality of life and standards of living will get the short end of the stick for the next decade. 

The decision to reverse course on the proposed extension was reportedly hastily developed at the White House and not by career professionals at the Census Bureau whose job it is to plan and execute a full, fair, and accurate count. A decision of this magnitude must not be politically motivated. It must be carried out to ensure that the decennial census is conducted in an impartial, exact manner. Likewise, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the enumeration is conducted responsibly and delivers reliable data about our nation’s changing socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. Too much is at stake--the undercount of vulnerable populations such as young children, people in low-income communities (rural and urban), immigrants, American Indians and others; congressional representation; and the annual allocation of $1.5 trillion in federal funding to states and localities.

It is vital that we protect the 2020 Census from political interference. The House of Representatives has already approved an extension of the 2020 Census operations as part of its most recent COVID relief package. We urge the Senate to stay the course by agreeing to an extension provision in its next COVID relief package, so that the Census Bureau is not forced to rush remaining enumeration operations and critical data review, processing, and tabulation activities.

Thank you for your consideration of this request and for supporting the full and fair 2020 Census we all deserve and the Constitution requires.