With Texas households starting to receive invitations by mail this week to complete the 2020 Census, the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19, could add a challenge to the decennial count.
The self-response window for the census begins on March 12 and will run through April 30.
“Census Bureau has plans in place for if and when a pandemic occurs during census operations,” Steven Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau, said in a statement this week. “The Census Bureau is going to stay up-to-date about the status of the virus and adjust plans accordingly.”
Advocates and officials have also argued that the virus will not be an issue because the census is online for the first time, making it easier than ever to respond to the census without talking to a census taker.
Katie Martin Lightfoot, census coordinator at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, one of the organizations anchoring the Texas Counts Campaign to Get Out The Count, told Reform Austin households have three ways to respond.
“They can respond online via the Census Bureau’s website, they can call over the phone or they can fill the paper questionnaire. All of these can be done from the comfort of your home.”
Should Texans want to respond by mail, physical copies of the census questionnaire will be mailed out in mid-April.
If Texans do not respond by the end of April, Census Bureau workers will begin in-person follow-ups starting in May and lasting through July.
“That’s when enumerators and door knockers are entering communities and going door-to-door and having folks fill out the census via an interview in real time,” Lightfoot said.
Even then, “Census Bureau staff will never touch anyone or enter homes”, said Lightfoot, assuaging any concerns about the outbreak.
Responding early will allow Texans to fulfill their constitutional duty and deter the spread of the coronavirus.
While COVID-19 fears may not have much of an effect on a complete count, they add to the many longstanding fears and barriers to one.
One such barrier is the lack of state funding for a complete count committee, something the Legislature has refused to do. In lieu of a state-wide CCC, nonprofits and local government have picked up the tab of making sure every Texan is counted this year.
Why are people going to so much trouble to ensure an accurate count? Census data has real effects on people’s lives.
Lightfoot told us three reasons why it is important for Texas to get a full count: our voice, our quality of life, and our business.
“Our representation in Texas. If we have an accurate count in Texas, we could gain two or three congressional seats. It also affects our electoral vote and redistricting … [and it] affects things down to our school boards up to folks representing us in D.C.”
Quality of Life
“If we have an undercount of 1 percent, a conservative estimate is we will lose $300 million per year for the next 10 years. If we end up in a loss, it will put an additional burden on our state budget.”
“[Businesses] use census data for where to set up shop and market research, which in turn helps our local economy for new jobs to be created.”
For the latest updates, resources and COVID-19 guidance in Texas, check the Department of State Health Services website.
For the latest information on COVID-19 at the national level, you can check out the CDC website.
Reform Austin will continue to cover the impacts of COVID-19 in Texas and the state and local response.