Order forces Census to do more visits, rely less on records

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U.S. Census Director Steven Dillingham speaks as he joins Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey as they hold a news conference to urge Arizonans to participate in the nation’s once-a-decade census population count Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Phoenix. Ending the 2020 census at the end of September instead of the end of October, could cost Florida and Montana congressional seats and result in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina losing $500 million in federal funding for healthcare for its neediest residents. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Even as the U.S. Census Bureau aims to finish the 2020 census by the end of the month, about a half dozen areas of the country have seen slight declines this week in the rate of households being counted — and that’s a good thing because it may result in a more accurate result, according to a researcher at the City University of New York.

A footnote the Census Bureau posted to its website says a temporary restraining order issued this month by a federal judge in San Jose, California is forcing the Census Bureau to change methods in some cases, leading to the declines, said Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service.

Instead of using administrative records to get answers about households that haven’t yet responded, the restraining order is forcing the bureau to send out census takers again to do in-person interviews with these households, which is considered a more reliable method. That likely has increased the workload of the door-knocking census takers, causing slight decreases in completion rates for the moment. But it should help the bureau get better results, Romalewski said.

The footnote was posted only for a short time before it was taken down without explanation. Asked for comment, a spokesman for the Census Bureau said he was researching the question.

The order issued by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh prohibits the Census Bureau from winding down field operations for the 2020 census until she can decide whether the head count of every U.S. residents ends Sept. 30 or is extended to Oct. 31. Koh’s decision was expected by Thursday evening.

The temporary restraining order was requested by a coalition of cities, counties and civil rights groups whose lawsuit demanded the Census Bureau restore its previous plan for finishing the census at the end of October. The coalition argued that a revised plan to end operations at the end of September would cause the Census Bureau to overlook minority communities, leading to an inaccurate count.

But the Census Bureau says it won’t be able to make a Dec. 31 deadline for turning in the numbers that determine how many congressional seats each state gets if field operations are extended an extra month.

Two states asked Wednesday to join the lawsuit in opposition of the temporary restraining order. Louisiana and Mississippi said that by preventing the Census Bureau from winding down operations in areas that are completed or near completion, the judge is keeping resources from being sent to lagging states like Louisiana, which is 91.1% complete, or Mississippi, where the completion rate is 91.8%. The current rate for the U.S. is 96.2%.

Plaintiffs allege the schedule was shortened to accommodate a directive from President Donald Trump, which tried to exclude people in the country illegally from the count used for congressional apportionment.

A three-judge panel in New York found Trump’s directive unlawful this month and blocked it. The Trump administration then asked the Supreme Court for fast action on an appeal and asked district judges to suspend their orders meanwhile. Civil rights groups and states led by New York countered in court papers Wednesday that there is no need to suspend since the government isn’t being harmed while appealing.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform asked for a briefing from Census Bureau officials after her committee obtained a script used by census takers when calling homeless shelters. The script says that among the questions census takers would ask shelter residents during visits was their citizenship status. There is no citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked it from being added last year.

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