Census deadline extension means Louisiana has more time to be counted

State’s response rate remains second from bottom

By: - September 30, 2020 10:41 am

Photo by U.S. Census Bureau

Louisiana residents and residents throughout the country will have at least until Monday to respond to the 2020 Census — and maybe longer.  A federal judge in Northern California ruled last week that the U.S. Census Bureau must continue its counting operation through the end of October, but U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — who oversees the bureau — has set a Monday, Oct. 5 “target date” to wrap up the count. 

However long it lasts, that extended deadline gives Louisiana — which currently has the second worst response rate in the nation — more time to have its residents counted.  Federal funding and the size of a state’s congressional delegation are calculated using a state’s official population numbers.

The Oct. 31 counting deadline that U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh set in a Sept. 24 ruling requires the U.S. Census Bureau to use the end date that it had previously announced.  Oct. 31, but at the beginning of August, the Trump administration announced that it would be ending the counting a month earlier than planned. Koh called that change, which she said wasn’t explained by Secretary Ross or the bureau, “arbitrary and capricious.”

As of Tuesday, 27 states and Puerto Rico had a total census response rate of 99 percent or higher.  Five states plus Puerto Rico are listed by the bureau as having total response rates of 99.9 percent.

Louisiana is at the other end of the list.  Its total response rate is 94.9 percent, putting it behind every other state except Alabama (93.7 percent).

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice is one of the organizations that has been working hard in Louisiana to encourage residents to make sure they’re counted. The organization has previously noted that Louisiana loses more $2,200 in funding for every resident who goes uncounted. Ashley Shelton, executive director of the coalition, said that Louisianians need to be sure to take advantage of the extra time they’re being given.

“Given that Louisiana is near the bottom of the country in Census response rate, the extension of the Census deadline is particularly good news for our state,” Shelton said in a statement Tuesday. “But it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t act. Right now, our hardest to count communities–lower income communities, both urban and rural, and especially communities of color–are being left behind.

“These are also the communities that benefit the most from a complete count. We need to redouble our efforts to get every single one of our family members, friends, and neighbors to fill out their 2020 Census as soon as possible. Without a complete count, those same communities will miss out on the resources they need to recover from the pandemic and other natural disasters, as well as the political representation they’ll need to make progress over the next decade.”

The 2020 Census is the first one in the nation’s history where residents have been given three ways to self respond, Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional census manager in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Atlanta office, said in a Sept. 4 interview with the Illuminator.  Responding to the census by mail has long been the standard, but this is the first time the census has publicized the public’s ability to respond online and the first time it has provided a way for people to respond on the phone, she said.

“It’s also the first census where we’re supporting 12 non-English languages online and by phone,” she said. An online questionnaire can be found at 2020Census.gov.  English speakers can dial 844-330-2020.  Non-English speakers can find the number to call at this link


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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later NOLA.com) as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.