Will COVID-19 trip up the decennial and disenfranchise historically undercounted populations?

Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC,) a civil rights organizations that advocates for the empowerment of Asian Americans, seems to think so.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hobbles efforts to roll out field activities designed to count tardy ‘unresponsive’ households and other hard-to-count populations, the Census Bureau has called a halt to operations.

On April 13 they announced a dramatically altered timeline for the 2020 Census introducing new contingency plans, delays, and new deadlines, that extend well into 2021.

Census-takers will no longer go door to door to follow up with nonresponsive households. All field data collection activities were temporarily suspended in March and will resume on June 1.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing practices will be implemented during in-person activities, and interactions with the public, enumeration, office work and processing activities, to protect their health and safety.

The new contingency plan will extend the window for field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020.

The Census Bureau is seeking statutory relief from Congress of 120 additional calendar days to deliver final apportionment counts- redistricting information and statistical data that guides the annual distribution of billions of dollars in public and private sector spending.

The delay will allow apportionment counts to be delivered to the President by April 30, 2021, and redistricting data to be delivered to the states no later than July 31, 2021.

A report in Just Security found that while the “arrival of COVID-19 made door-knocking unrealistic for the time being,” it also jeopardizes the government’s ability to “actually enumerate” all Americans and imperils “the accuracy of data that will be used to determine political representation in Congress and the distribution of more than $1.5 trillion in federal funds.”

It’s a concern shared by AAJC who say they will support the delay of the Nonresponse Followup operation (NRFU) until public health circumstances improve, “We fully empathize with the Census Bureau’s challenges of carrying out the Census 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. ”

But they warn that “an insufficient nonresponse follow-up (NRFU) operation would mean a failed 2020 Census.”

What would a successful census look like?

The nation is counting on a fair and accurate 2020 Census. So, a successful decennial should count everyone – households that self-respond as well as communities marginalized and historically missed in the past, that include Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, immigrants, and children.

The AAJC says that a robust and successful NRFU operation is critical to getting as close as possible to these hard to reach populations that depend a full and accurate count.

But will new developments for a delayed headcount ensure this?

AAJC has called for the Census Bureau to provide detailed plans on how it will achieve an accurate count of hard-to-count communities during a delayed and significantly altered non-response follow-up period. “If the Census Bureau is unable to resume field operations by June 2020, we will need to examine the contingency plans.”

Congress and interested stakeholders must assess the unprecedented request by the Census Bureau to delay the statutory deadline for report apportionment and redistricting data says AAJC, insisting that all options need to remain on the table to ensure a fair and accurate count.

Meanwhile they will continue to promote and encourage participation in the 2020 Census.
“Our commitment to working with the U.S. Census Bureau to support outreach to our communities is equally unwavering. We have been striving towards achieving the best count possible of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations in the 2020 Census – one that is at least as accurate as the count in 2010 of our community.”

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents
Photo by Dhaya Eddine Bentaleb on Unsplash

Meera Kymal is the Managing Editor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at desicollective.media. She produces multi-platform content on the South Asian diaspora through the lens of social justice,...