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Our Opinion: Extend the deadline for the census

Our Opinion: Extend the deadline for the census

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You would think that, of all the things we’d want to get right, the census would rank near the top of the list.

The census determines where billions of dollars in federal funding go.

According to the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, that comes to about $1,823 per person in North Carolina — or an annual total of roughly $7.4 billion.

The census count decides where funding goes for roads and highways, health care, economic development and other critical investments.

It also determines each state’s representation in Congress — whether it gains or loses seats based on population growth.

North Carolina is expected to add a 14th seat in the U.S. House. But that could be jeopardized by a census undercount.

Making this year’s census even more challenging has been COVID-19, which has delayed and limited the ability of census takers to canvass from door to door.

So, why, in the name of decency and common sense, would the U.S. Census Bureau not only fail to extend the deadline for responses for the 2020 Census, but cut them short by a full month?

Go figure. The bureau announced earlier this month that it is ending all census-taking efforts — including in-person, online, phone and mail responses — by Sept. 30.

Why do such a thing, given the stakes — and obstacles and complications created by COVID-19?

A written statement posted on the bureau’s website claimed that this will “accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline of December 31, 2020, as required by law and directed by the Secretary of Commerce.”

Forgive our skepticism, but that language reads like a classified ad for a bridge sale.

So Cooper is right to join a bipartisan group of governors who are seeking an extension of the census count deadline at least until Oct. 31.

The governors expressed their concerns in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.

“Your recent announcement calls into question how millions of Americans who have yet to fill out their 2020 Census will be counted,” the letter says.

“It is surprising to hear how optimistic the Census Bureau is about being able to reach 100% in less than 60 days, given the current daily self-response rate and the fact that, as of the writing of this letter, only 63% of the country has responded to the 2020 Census."

In North Carolina, 41% of residents had yet to respond to the census as of July 31.

The governors of Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington joined Cooper in signing the letter. Frankly, it’s disappointing that there weren’t more.

Among those who stand to lose the most in North Carolina if there is an undercount: rural counties, the elderly, people of color and military families.

In fact, federal dollars will be more critical than ever in an addressing the widespread, and ongoing, damage the coronavirus has done to health and economic well-being of millions of Americans.

Four former Census Bureau directors warn that not extending the deadline “will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country.”

There's no good rationale for cutting short the census, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

But there are some not-so-good ones: an undercount of immigrants, people of color, renters and other group that are historically underrepresented in the results.

“We need the extra time to ensure that the hardest-to-count communities are included in the count,” Vanita Gupta, who heads The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told NPR.

“There is no other reason for the Trump administration to be rushing the census if they didn’t have a partisan or illegitimate motive.”

No other reason.

It's not a stretch to suspect ulterior motives, since President Trump has been poking at the 2020 census for months. 

As for what you can do? Don't let him.

Make sure you’re counted. If you’ve received your census questionnaire via mail, fill it out and return it.

You also can respond by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by web at MY2020CENSUS.GOV.

Stand and be counted. It’s your right. And it’s your future.

Make your voice heard, whether some people are eager to listen or not.


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