LAMORINDA, CA — The U.S. Census Bureau this week announced it will suspend counting efforts in California and other states a month earlier than originally planned.
The move, an attempt by the bureau to accelerate the decennial count amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, was confirmed in a statement by bureau director Steven Dillingham. On Sept. 30, the bureau will cease critical door-knocking efforts and will stop collecting responses online, over the phone, and by mail.
As of Aug. 6, roughly 4 out of 10 U.S. households have yet to be counted. The national response rate is 63 percent, a minimal increase from mid-June, when the response rate was 61.5 percent.
In California, response rates are higher than the national average. To date, 64.5 percent of households in our state have responded to the census.
Lamorinda is ahead of both the state and national averages. Lafayette is at 81.2 percent, Moraga is 84.1 percent, while Orinda comes in at 82.9 percent.
The last-minute timeline change leaves the bureau with less than two months to try to reach people of color, children, senior citizens, undocumented immigrants, renters, the homeless and low-income people — all of whom are among the least likely to be counted accurately in the census and are also among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Should these households not respond, cities, counties, and states could lose out on billions of dollars that fund crucial services needed before, during and after the pandemic. This includes hospitals, Head Start programs, school lunch programs, Medicaid, food stamps and more.
Before the pandemic hit, census counts were originally supposed to be finished by the end of July. With support from President Donald Trump, the timeline to complete the federally-mandated count was extended.
However, the pandemic continued to plague the bureau with outreach challenges.
In March, census officials suspended field operations, pulling workers off the streets to protect them from the virus. This included efforts to drop off census forms at households in rural areas with no traditional addresses.
Workers didn’t return until May 4 as part of a phased restart.
Organizations throughout the country also put in-person outreach on hold. Plans to set up booths at farmers markets and work with child care centers have been abandoned, replaced by digital advertising, social media, and telephone calls.
Last week, bureau chief Dillingham signaled a shift in plans by telling members of Congress "the Census Bureau and others really want us to proceed as rapidly as possible."
Dillingham’s comments came as the bureau quietly removed references to Oct. 31 — the previously announced end date for all counting efforts — from its website, NPR reported.
If your household is among those who have not responded to this year’s census, it’s not too late.
In a move designed to cut costs and keep up with digital lifestyles, the census questionnaire is available at my2020census.gov. Americans can access the online questionnaire by using a 12-digit ID code included with their census invitation sent by mail.
The 2020 census counts everyone living in the United States and its five territories.
Learn more about how to respond to the 2020 census.
— Written by Patch editor Megan VerHelst with additional reporting by Bea Karnes