The 2020 census was supposed to break new ground by moving more surveys in the once-a-decade U.S. population count online than ever before. Now, a global pandemic and Gov. Kate Brown’s order telling most Oregonians to stay home is pushing census-takers to get even more innovative than they had planned.
Door-to-door visits by official Census Bureau enumerators are on hold for at least a month. Census outreach staff are being trained at home instead of in-person. And advocates are seeking solutions for how to count people in rural areas, tribal communities and places with limited access to the internet.
"We're trying to figure this out, figure it out together, and time is not on our side," Esperanza Tervalon-Garrett, campaign manager for We Count Oregon, told "Think Out Loud" on Thursday. "This whole pandemic is going to have a huge impact on our ability to count."
We Count Oregon, which seeks to make sure hard-to-count communities and individuals are included in the census tally, had planned to take paper census forms to rural and tribal areas, using in-person outreach to boost returns where online responses were expected to be lower.
“We don’t want forms that are potentially contaminated left on tribal lands,” Tervalon-Garrett said.
“We still plan on talking to 200,000 people and making sure that they understand and fill out and complete their census,” she said. But now that work will be done by phone call and text message, instead of face-to-face.
Many details of exactly how to conduct the count are still in flux. An original deadline to complete the census count by July 31 has been pushed back to Aug. 14.
The federal Congressional Hispanic Caucus is asking for even more time, and is seeking a new deadline of Oct. 31.
“For every week or day that we all have to be in our homes to make sure we are healthy or safe as a community, we should be able to tack that time onto the back end of this process so we be make sure that the numbers and the count that governs our lives for the next 10 years is accurate and complete,” Tervalon-Garrett said.
Census officials can adjust the timeline, within limits, Tervalon-Garrett said – but pushing the count past Dec. 31 could raise constitutional issues. And apportionment is scheduled to take place April 1, 2021, based on the certified census count.
That’s the process by which U.S. House of Representatives seats are allocated to states based on population, and it also affects billions of dollars in federal funding divided among the states.
“We’re trying to figure this out, figure it out together, and time is not on our side,” Tervalon-Garret said.