Proposal would extend Census collection to improve Native headcounts




US Census 2020
A census worker wear a mask while conducting their work. Photo via U.S. Census Bureau

A bill introduced Monday in Congress would extend 2020 Census operations through October, instead of the pending Sept. 30 deadline imposed by the Trump administration.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the proposal is needed to give Census workers time to turn in a more thorough and accurate once-in-a-decade headcount, which is required by the U.S. Constitution. 

Gallego said it is concerning that a low percentage of Arizona’s Native communities responded to the census online, by mail or phone, methods known as self-response. 

“The self-response rate is too low, so we need time for the census enumerators to walk through the neighborhoods,” Gallego said.

Arizona overall has among the lowest 2020 Census response rates nationally, although it no longer ranks bottom five. As of Sept. 16, 87.9% of the households in the state had responded to the census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, that number is 93%.

Besides determining political representation in Congress, census data is also used to draw local political districts and guides federal funding for social services, education and transportation projects for the next decade. And businesses rely on accurate census counts for managing their operations and growth.

Arizona estimates that each resident who is not counted represents an estimated loss of $887 in federal funding. 

Gallego’s bill would extend the deadline for the delivery of apportionment data to the U.S. House of Representatives to April 30, 2021 from December 31, 2020. It would also extend the delivery of redistricting data to the states to July 31, 2021 from March 31, 2021.

The pandemic delayed when census workers began conducting in-person follow-ups with people who hadn’t responded to the census online, by phone or by mail. Those operations were planned for mid-May through July. Since Aug. 9, census takers have visited Arizona households that have not responded.

In late August, the Trump Administration announced, following reporting from NPR, that it was abruptly cutting census work short by four weeks to end on Sept. 30.

The bill bars census gathering operations from ending before Oct. 31. 

Two of Arizona’s tribal communities are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to block census work from winding down by the end of September: The Navajo Nation, the country’s largest sovereign Native territory which expands across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, and the Gila River Indian Community in Maricopa and Pinal counties. Both communities rely on in-person interactions with census workers, the complaint states. 

Gallego’s district, which covers central, south and parts of west Phoenix, also had some of the lowest census self-response among the state’s nine Congressional districts. About 55.8% of the households in that district responded by mail, phone, or online to the 2020 Census, while on average the state’s self-response rate was 62.8%.

“We need more time for my community to be counted,” Gallego said. “If they are not counted, they are not going to be properly apportioned. We are not going to get the funds we deserve from the federal government.” 

Total self-response rate in Arizona’s tribal areas
Ak-Chin Indian Community: 65.8%
Cocopah Indian Tribe: 24.4%
Colorado River Indian Tribes: 24.6%
Fort Apache: 14.5%
Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation: 51.3%
Fort Mojave: 44.7%
Gila River Indian Community: 10.5%
Havasupai Tribe: 0%
Hopi Tribe: 17.3%
Hualapai Tribe: 26.7% (compared to 21.4% in 2010)
Kaibab: 9.4%
Navajo Nation: 19.7% (compared to 29.4% in 2010)
Pascua Yaqui: 47.7% (compared to 100% in 2010)
Pueblo of Zuni: 48.8% (compared to 0% in 2010)
San Carlos: 14.2%
Salt River: 48.7% (compared to 51.4% in 2010)
Tohono O’odham Nation: 18.2% (compared to 45% in 2010)
Tonto Apache: 20.9%  (compared to 25% in 2010)
Yavapai-Apache Nation: 31% (compared to 1.4% in 2010)
Yavapai-Prescott: 34.5%
Source:  U.S. Census Bureau

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.