The Trump administration’s sudden decision to end 2020 census field operations a month early will disproportionately hurt communities of color and leave them with less federal money and weaker representation in Congress for the next 10 years.
“There’s absolutely no question in my mind,” she said in a Tuesday interview.
Census Bureau officials have said the reason census takers will only be knocking on doors until Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31, the original cutoff, is that the coronavirus pandemic already delayed the agency’s schedule and it is pushing to meet deadlines.
But the Democratic governor doesn’t buy it. The Trump administration knows that communities of color have been among the hardest to reach amid the pandemic, she said, and that by ending the census count early, many people in those communities simply won’t be counted at all.
“For them, I can think of no other way to stamp out their voices through the census process than shortening the timeframe for collecting the information,” Brown said.
People in minority and rural communities often rely on census takers coming to them in the final stage of data collection to do “nonresponse follow-ups.” The census takers visit the homes of those who haven’t responded to the census online or by phone or mail and interview them in-person. It can be very difficult to reach these communities via the internet or by phone. Some tribal reservations, for example, don’t have internet access at all. The shift from landline phones to cellphones has also made it harder to connect people to their households. That means a final round of door-knocking is the most effective way to make sure everyone gets counted.
The decennial census is so much more than a simple headcount. Census data is used to draw congressional districts. Given both political pressures and legal concerns, the more members of a minority community are counted in a given area, the more likely they will be kept together in one district and have a voice in Congress. If fewer people of color are counted in a given area, their community may be broken apart among several districts, making it harder to elect a lawmaker responsive to them.
Census data is also used to decide how much federal money goes to every community. For each person who isn’t counted in the census, their community loses thousands of dollars every year for the next 10 years. That money would have been used for services like health care, education, infrastructure and housing assistance.
Last week, Brown joined seven other governors in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau Director Stephen Dillingham urging them to restore the Oct. 31 deadline for collecting census data.
“The newly adjusted deadline for response makes us especially concerned that our key partners will not be able to do the outreach necessary to reach Tribal communities, immigrant and refugee communities, communities of color, and rural communities,” reads the letter. “These communities are already being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and not providing them enough time to complete their 2020 Census would be denying them valuable resources needed for their recovery from this crisis.”
Brown said she hasn’t heard anything back. She chalks it up to the Trump administration having no good answer for cutting short the census count in the first place.
“It is absolutely no question that this is a political decision,” Brown added. “This administration is all about scoring political points. It’s all about political theater. It’s all about politics.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, has expressed similar sentiments.
“This is about Republicans trying to keep control over a changing demographic that they just can’t keep up with,” he told HuffPost last week. “They have given us no real reason for this. They’re just not going to count.”
A Census Bureau spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment last week about whether politics are behind the agency’s decision to end the census count early.