Democracy & Government

Don’t Let the Trump Administration Rush the Census Count

The 2020 Census is the largest, most complex population count in the nation’s history that affects redistricting, federal funding and a host of other policy decisions for a decade. It's crucial we get the count right.

Don’t Let the Trump Administration Rush the Census Count

People gather in in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as decisions are handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. The high court blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau announced in a statement that it is ending all counting efforts for the 2020 Census on Sept. 30, a month sooner than previously announced. As NPR reports, “With roughly 4 out of 10 households nationwide yet to be counted, and already delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the bureau now has less than two months left to try to reach people of color, immigrants, renters, rural residents and other members of historically undercounted groups who are not likely to fill out a census form on their own.”

Back in April, with support from President Trump, the Census Bureau announced that it needed extra time to count. Counting was supposed to end July 31, so Congress approved moving back the deadline to Oct. 31. But last week in a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Bureau Director Steven Dillingham told legislators that “the Census Bureau and others really want us to proceed as rapidly as possible.”

“Democrats in Congress and many Census advocates have become increasingly concerned that the White House is pressuring the bureau to stop counting soon in order to benefit Republicans when House seats are reapportioned and voting districts are redrawn,” NPR reports.

Besides congressional representation, getting the count right matters because it impacts a decade’s worth of federal funding (an estimated $1.3 trillion) and spending decisions in every community in the country, affecting infrastructure, school funding, and a host of other social safety net programs. The House coronavirus package under negotiation in Congress includes a provision that would give the bureau more time. Republican members of Congress have proposed no similar extensions.

Today in the Washington Post, Vanita Gupta, the president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote an editorial detailing why an undercount might be preferable to Republicans. She writes:

The Trump administration is doing everything it can to sabotage the 2020 Census so that it reflects an inaccurate and less diverse portrait of America. Its latest effort involves quietly compressing the census timeline to all but guarantee a massive undercount. Congress must intervene to make certain this does not happen.

Rushing census operations, as the administration is attempting to do, ensures the bureau won’t count millions of people — especially those hit hardest by the pandemic. It will leave the country with inaccurate numbers that deprive communities of resources, political power and the federal assistance necessary to recover from the pandemic for the next 10 years.

This move is part of a series of administration actions whose intent is unmistakable: to suppress minority representation and gain political advantage. First the administration tried to add a citizenship question to the census. Having been rebuffed by the Supreme Court, it issued an unconstitutional order last month instructing officials to exclude undocumented residents from being counted for purposes of apportioning congressional districts. Now this.

The 2020 Census is the largest, most complex population count in the nation’s history — one made more difficult by the emergence of covid-19 and the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to undermine a decade of careful planning by the Census Bureau. Because the census determines funding for resources such as hospitals and health care, public schools, and infrastructure — as well as the number of seats in Congress each state receives and how legislative districts are drawn — it is imperative to get the count right.

Keep reading at the Washington Post Opinions page »

If you haven’t yet filled out the Census, take 10 minutes and do it today here: Take the 2020 Census

Theresa Riley

Theresa Riley is a digital content specialist and freelance writer. She creates content and oversees Bill Moyers’ social media strategy. She is an award-winning web producer and editor whose work has been featured on PBS Online, BillMoyers.com and TIME.com. She wants you to vote in November. Follow her on Twitter @delvina

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