We recently informed our readers of the Census Bureau’s decision to push back its deadline for citizens to respond to the end of October, in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic hampering its household visit efforts.
And with Angelina County lagging in its response, that extra time would be crucial: There’s simply too much at stake for our area for anyone to go uncounted as the 2020 Census results could mean hundreds of thousands — and potentially millions — of dollars in increased funding for our area.
That’s why we’re so puzzled as to why such an important, once-in-a-decade process has turned into such a rush job this year.
Earlier this month, the bureau reversed that decision and announced that it’s shortening the window for data collection for the 2020 Census, bumping up the deadline for responses to the end of September. How did we go from making allowances due to the coronavirus to unnecessarily hastening the collection of such crucial data?
The bureau said it was forced to shorten the window to allow enough time to compile its data between Oct. 31 and Dec. 31, which is the deadline Congress set for turning in numbers used to redraw congressional districts. The bureau wants Congress to extend that deadline to the end of April 2021, as well as move the March 2021 deadline for state and local legislative districts to July 2021.
A measure to extend those deadlines passed the Democratic House in July but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Congress simply must allow the bureau more time to gather comprehensive information.
Census results are used to divvy up $1.5 trillion in federal funding for such resources as schools, hospitals, fire trucks, roads and bridges. Without an accurate count, Angelina County may not receive the vital resources it needs to ensure a high quality of life for our citizens.
Another key aspect of the 2020 Census as it relates to us: Lufkin and its neighboring communities have a chance to reach 100,000 on the population meter. That would cause Lufkin to become a Metropolitan Statistical Area, a designation that would trigger even more funding and economic development for our city and region. As it is now, Lufkin touts itself as being the state’s No. 2 micropolitan area behind Huntsville, which is certainly something to hang our hat on, but not nearly as advantageous as being at the bottom of the metropolitan list.
The new Census numbers also will be used in the drawing of new Texas and U.S. representative districts, so Angelina County needs the best population figure it can get. Rural districts are getting harder and harder to come by, which gives our lawmakers very little political leverage. The 2003 redistricting explains why we have a congressman from Tyler instead of one from Lufkin or Nacogdoches.
Yet in Angelina County, only 54.8% of households had responded to the census by Monday. The final response rate in 2010 was 64.7%, said DaVina Morris, executive assistant for the Deep East Texas Council of Governments.
By contrast, about 63% of all American households have responded since the 2020 questionnaire became available eight months ago. Less than six weeks now remain for the Census Bureau to track down the other 37%. After Sept. 30, households will no longer receive visits from census workers or be able to respond online, by phone or by mail.
Civil rights activists fear the shortened deadline will cause historically marginalized communities to be undercounted, thus influencing stats used to determine political representation. An inaccurate count could also impact how funding is allocated to different regions through Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other federal aid.
Congress has extended deadlines for everything under the sun due to COVID-19 restrictions, including tax collection, Real ID use, student loan payments, mortgage relief applications — the list goes on and on. We see no reason why it can’t allow the Census Bureau more time to complete an accurate count, as well.