Bill Seeks to Extend Key 2020 Census Deadlines Due to COVID-19
US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) joined fellow senators–Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska)–in introducing a bipartisan bill that would extend two key statutory deadlines for the 2020 Census by four months and require the Census Bureau to continue field operations through Oct. 31, 2020.
The senators say delays in census operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a severe undercount of the population, specifically in native, minority and rural communities across the country. Supporters of the bill say these extensions would allow the Census Bureau to continue collecting and processing data, which will lead to a more accurate count.
“The pandemic has caused real concerns around getting everyone counted in the 2020 Census,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill extends key deadlines so that the Census Bureau has enough time to reach more communities and ensure an accurate count.”
“Obtaining an accurate Census count is always difficult. But now, with the added delays and difficulties caused by COVID-19, it’s become increasingly clear that more time is needed to ensure a fair and accurate census count. For an effort that happens once every ten years, with impacts that last for the next ten years, this is far too important to not get right. The Census determines how much federal funding our local communities will receive for services like schools, roads, and other public services—each vital to Alaska’s livelihood,” said Senator Murkowski. “This legislation is critically important, taking into account all the various challenges and hurdles that have occurred during this year’s Census, and providing the extensions necessary to have a complete 2020 Census.”
“An accurate population count in Alaska is notoriously difficult given our many diverse and remote communities, and the coronavirus pandemic has only served to exacerbate this challenge,” said Senator Sullivan. “In Alaska, we are already witnessing the lowest self-response rates in the country. The impact of this Census will be felt for the next ten years, and we simply cannot afford an undercount. Pushing back the deadline is the appropriate response to make sure this Census is accurate and successful.”
The 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act follows a previous request made by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to extend the deadlines for apportionment and redistricting, citing the pandemic delaying census operations.
The bill would extend the deadline for the delivery of apportionment data to the US House of Representatives to April 30, 2021 from Dec. 31, 2020. It would also extend the statutory delivery of redistricting data to the states to July 31, 2021 from March 31, 2021.
Additionally, it would require the Census Bureau to return to the original end date of 2020 Census field operations—Oct. 31, 2020—to give the agency enough time to ensure a full count in hard-to-count communities.
In August, Senators Schatz and Murkowski led a bipartisan group of 48 senators urging congressional leaders to include these deadline extensions in the next coronavirus relief package.
More than 200 groups have endorsed the legislation, including the National Association of Counties, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Organization of Black County Officials, National Council of Nonprofits, National Congress of American Indians, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NALEO Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and MALDEF.