Efforts to wind down the 2020 Census by Sept. 30 have been blocked for now as a federal judge in California has ruled that the U.S. Census Bureau must continue through October. Though, the Trump administration is appealing the order to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas is a program associate at the Aspen Community Foundation (ACF), which is part of the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee (A2PCCC). He said the once-in-a-decade population count has a huge impact on the Roaring Fork Valley and the state because it’s used to determine federal funding for local schools, hospitals and nonprofits as well as to divvy up the number of seats Colorado gets in the House.
“The counting of residents that we get now is going to impact what happens with those numbers for the next 10 years,” Alvarez-Terrazas said.
As NPR has reported, census headcount numbers are used to determine an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal funding.
In theory, Alvarez-Terrazas said, the ruling allows more time for Latinos and other historically underrepresented communities in the valley to be more fully counted. But he wishes they had known sooner as the complete count committee has already used up most of their funding for Census outreach.
“We'll have to go back and look at what's available and what's left over to see how we can leverage that, especially for undercounted populations,” Alvarez-Terrazas explained.
Alvarez-Terrazas said ACF and the A2PCCC will be meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 29 to review what’s left in their outreach budget and make a plan for the coming weeks. He said their plans are further complicated by the uncertainty over whether the federal court order to extend the Census through October will be upheld now that the Department of Justice Department has filed a notice that they are appealing the order.
Who gets included in this year’s census has become a point of controversy, but this isn’t new. During the last count in 2010, there were concerns among some over the inclusion of undocumented immigrants as well as military and federal employees living overseas.
But Alvarez-Terrazas said what’s different this time around is the extreme level of partisanship and the challenge of doing a nationwide headcount amid a global pandemic.
“It’s definitely been a struggle,” he said. “How do we keep the volunteers safe and also the people that we’re knocking on doors for?”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Trump administration suggested the count would be extended.
“We’re going to be asking for a delay, a major delay,” Trump said, adding, “How can you possibly be knocking on doors for a long period of time now?”
But the administration changed course in July and decided the U.S. Census Bureau should end counting a month earlier, on Sept. 30.
Alvarez-Terrazas said changing the deadline added another complication to an already confusing Census count, especially for undocumented immigrants. Last year, President Trump proposed adding a citizenship question to the once-a-decade count.
“This gave a lot of attention to the 2020 Census, especially by civil rights groups and immigrant groups,” Alvarez-Terrazas said. “They were afraid that by including a citizenship question that would discourage people from participating.”
In June 2019, the Supreme Court struck down including the citizenship question and ruled it violated the 14th Amendment's requirement to include the, "whole number of persons in each state."
Alvarez-Terrazas said this level of partisanship, combined with the pandemic, has made it extremely difficult to do what should be a straightforward undertaking: counting the population.
“There is still a lot of fear in the community that by filling out the census, your information would be run to ICE or another government agency that could then lead to them being deported,” he explained.
Despite the controversy and ongoing confusion over the deadline, Rachel Brenneman, the campaign director for the A2PCCC said an inaccurate count would be a big problem for the state and Colorado could stand to lose an estimated $2,300 per person per year.
“And with COVID happening, state and local budgets are just completely and totally packed, so it’s actually more important now than ever,” she said.
Brenneman and the A2PCCC have been keeping track of how many people have filled out the Census in the region, and they launched their “it’s not too late campaign” in late August. As of Sept. 25, self-response rates for the Census are at 38% in Pitkin and Eagle counties and 66% in Garfield County. The statewide response rate is roughly 96%.
For now, Alvarez-Terrazas said that he’s cautiously optimistic.
“There is this feeling in me of, ‘how much more can we actually get people to participate?’,” he said. “But the optimist in me says, ‘if we don't try, then it's going to be zero.’”
Alvarez-Terrazas said he knows the October deadline is not set in stone and they’re still waiting to see whether the Trump administration’s appeal of the federal court ruling will once again shorten the deadline to Wednesday, Sept. 30.