McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Monday prompted the U.S. Census Bureau to ask Congress to give the agency an extension until Oct. 31 to collect data, which at least one South Texas congressman favors to allow rural border communities more time to respond.
U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham issued a joint statement on Monday afternoon announcing the request, saying the added time is necessary to restart field offices in June and get agents in neighborhoods in the late summer and into the fall. All field activity was suspended in March due to the coronavirus.
Both said all precautions would be taken to ensure the safety of Census workers and residents.
“In-person activities, including all interaction with the public, enumeration, office work and processing activities, will incorporate the most current guidance to promote the health and safety of staff and the public. This will include recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing practices,” the joint statement read.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas who represents McAllen, has been outspoken in his concerns that low-income residents in his district could be missed during this important count due to a lack of digital equipment, Spanish-language outreach and fears from Hispanics to fill out the form.
On Monday afternoon, he told Border Report that he was in favor of extending the filing date to Halloween.
“The health and safety of Americans is paramount. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ and Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham’s request to delay the Census deadline to October 31 is the only sensible solution amidst a global health pandemic. The 2020 Census remains a high priority as it will affect the distribution of billions in resources to our community and our political representation. I will continue to advocate for policies that ensure we have a fair and accurate count.”
(The) request to delay the Census deadline to October 31 is the only sensible solution amidst a global health pandemic.”U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas
Gonzalez has told Border Report that more Internet connectivity is needed for border communities, especially as the current 2020 Census is mostly being pushed digitally.
“Texas didn’t make the proper investments necessary for the outreach for the Census,” Gonzalez said in February. “For every thousand households that go unaccounted we lose about $150 million in federal revenues to the region.”
Hidalgo County officials last week told Border Report that a very low percentage of households in several border communities within the county has them extremely concerned that there could be an undercount in the region.
As of Monday, the national response average is 48%, but Hidalgo County has had a response rate of 27%, with some rural communities responding in the single digits.
If Congress grants the 120-day extension to the Census Bureau, then agency officials said apportionment counts would be delivered to President Donald Trump by April 30, 2021, and redistricting data would be delivered to the states no later than July 31, 2021.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, whose district includes the Gulf Coast region of South Texas, was a bit more hesitant about the administration’s request to delay the Census reporting, and asked for more details.
Vela told Border Report late Monday: “Efforts to keep Census workers and our communities safe during this pandemic are of paramount importance. However, changes proposed by the Administration must not damage the accuracy and fairness of the Census. At this time, Congress has not been thoroughly briefed on the Administration’s proposed changes. I look forward to reviewing the Administration’s proposal to ensure that communities that are historically under-counted are not unduly affected.”