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Census count continues while COVID-19 delays field operations

Households started to receive invitations to participate in the 2020 Census in March. It’s the first time the every-decade count includes an online option to participate.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the census has not stopped, but some operations have changed. As of the publication of this story, more than 11 million households had already responded.

Officials are encouraging those who have received the invitation, and have online access, to continue to submit their responses. The invitation has a unique identification number that is entered online at 2020census.gov to launch the questionnaire.

The process takes about 10 minutes to complete.

The results of the census count are used to direct billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities for schools, roads and other public services. An accurate count is crucial to helping communities prepare to meet transportation and emergency readiness needs.

In addition, the results will determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and political representation at all levels of government.

Tribes and other Indian Country organizations have pushed for an accurate count of all Native Americans for more than a year. Tribal members are urged to use the name of their tribe exactly as it’s listed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Otherwise, officials said, there is a risk of their tribal affiliation being represented inaccurately.

Indian Country leaders are, naturally, concerned that the COVID-19 public health emergency will disproportionately harm the Native American count.

“Indian Country will be faced with another 10 years of bad census numbers,” Kevin Allis, the CEO of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), said on a March 20 teleconference with other leaders.

“It has an effect on programs for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Almost half of rural Indian Country has no access to internet or broadband service,” he said.

For households with no internet access or that are located in hard to reach communities, census enumerators go door-to-door to get accurate information. Those field operations have been delayed until at least April 1.

Census officials are following other guidance from public health authorities as well.

“The Census Bureau will continue to evaluate all 2020 Census operations,” officials said in a news release in late March. “Should any additional adjustments need to be made, the Census Bureau will communicate these changes broadly and promptly.”

The bureau also announced that its count of the country’s homeless population has been postponed until late April.

Enumerators, who are expected to be deployed in late May, will be trained online and won’t be allowed to gather in groups of more than 10, the bureau said.

For those unable to complete the questionnaire online, there is an option by phone at (800) 923-8282. There is also a mail-in option that will be sent to those who don’t respond online or by phone.

For more information, including how to respond online, by phone, or by mail, go to 2020census.gov.

To dispel some of the more common bits of misinformation that has circulated about the census, officials want households to know that the questionnaire does not include a citizenship question and that information is confidential. Also, the questionnaire does not ask about religion, political affiliation or income.

This is a sample of the census questionnaire that has been mailed to every U.S. household. (Image: Census Bureau)
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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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