New York House Democrats sent a letter Friday to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking the department to extend the time for filling out the 2020 census because of the growing coronavirus health emergency.
“We write you today to impress upon you the necessity of extending the enumeration period for the 2020 Census due to the social disruption caused by COVID-19,” the Members wrote. “As states and local jurisdictions continue to dedicate resources to expanding their capacity to respond to this outbreak, there will be diminishing state capacity to administer the Census coupled with pragmatic challenges caused by the outbreak itself.”
The representatives of various N.Y. districts emphasized the fact that resources will be pulled away from the Census to fight the outbreak as the virus spreads.
As Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci testified in front of the House Oversight Committee, he said “we will see more cases, and things will get worse.” We must take steps now to ensure that the 2020 Census is prepared to adjust to the new reality that we may soon face.”
The Democratic lawmakers pointed to the likely coinciding of the census start date and the peak of the pandemic.
“Social distancing will make enumeration practically impossible during the current allotted time frame. First and foremost, the April 1st start date for enumeration coincides with what could be the crescendo of the outbreak.”
They highlighted the fact that the significant population of constituents will need a house visit by census workers, which will be challenging to conduct given the outbreak.
“Enumerators have historically had difficulty breaking through the stigma of a government official knocking on your door thus suggesting the fear of transmission will only amplify this challenge.”
The Congress members also said that social distancing will impact the number of people who fill out the forms, thus making the count inaccurate.
“Eliminating large social gatherings typically used to raise awareness about the importance of the census in conjunction with reduced access to the Internet for marginalized communities will substantially impact the self-response rate and subsequently the accuracy of the overall count.”
They continued, ”The homeless, for example, typically get counted in homeless shelters or other charitable organizations where they may receive mail followed by a counting of those physically on the street. If these sites are closed in order to prevent the transmission of the disease and unnecessary travel remains limited, many Americans like these will simply fall through the cracks of the Census.”
They emphasized that lack of access to the internet and low income in their communities would impact the numbers who self-fill the forms, making the census workers jobs harder during the pandemic.
“Nearly 10% of residents in Westchester County as well as 13% of residents statewide do not have access to the Internet at home. These individuals would need access to one of the Census Bureau’s outreach sites that provide the public with an opportunity to access the Internet,” they wrote. “Moreover, 40% of households making less than $20,000 annually in New York State lack an Internet subscription meaning those unable to respond online are those most in need of being counted.”
They ended by saying while the constitution requires the census, the dates can be extended in extreme situations and implored Ross to extend the Census completion date.