(Stock Photo)

There are 10 days left for U.S. residents to complete the census, and local leaders are calling on Austinites to make sure they are counted.


The results of the decennial effort will determine how much federal funding is directed to Austin over the next decade as well as the upcoming redistricting process and the allocation of new state and federal representatives.

"It is vital that every single household do this," Mayor Steve Adler said during a press conference on Monday morning.

Every 10 years, the federal government is constitutionally required to count every person who is living in the country, regardless of origin or immigration status. For the first time, residents are able to complete the census online; the questionnaire takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Challenges

This census, however, has been disrupted by myriad factors.

In 2018, the Trump administration attempted to add a question about citizenship to the census. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such a question was unconstitutional, the proposal prompted concerns about data privacy and confidentiality that could depress participation.

"It is safe to take the census," State Senator Sarah Eckhardt said, adding that census data is private and not shared across federal agencies. "But I also acknowledge the courage of the individuals in the foreign-born community in standing up and being counted."

Then, just as the nationwide census rollout was getting underway, the pandemic arrived, preventing traditional door-knocking campaigns and other in-person outreach.

Most recently, the U.S. Census Bureau announced on July 30 that it was shortening the response period, moving the deadline up to Sept. 30 from Oct. 31.

A bureau analysis concluded that a "compressed review period creates risk for serious errors," according to an internal document obtained by the House Oversight and Reform Committee

"One of the things that is a challenge right now is the 30 days that we were anticipating that we would have … are no longer with us," Adler said. "It makes the next 10 days that much more important."

Consequences

It is critical that as many people respond to the census as possible because each person who is counted equates to around $1,500 in federal funding annually directed toward their community.

So far, only 66.3% of Travis County residents have self-responded to the census, which is a lower rate than Tarrant and Bexar counties but slightly higher than Dallas and Harris counties. The self-response rate in Travis County was around 75% in 2010, Adler said.

At the current response rate, Travis County stands to lose $350 million a year in federal funding, Adler said.

This funding supports a plethora of programs, including natural disaster relief, Medicaid, student loans, housing vouchers, highway construction and subsidized lunches.

"The census is the baseline document for the distribution of those federal funds," Eckhardt said.

Adler added that census numbers were used when allocating coronavirus relief dollars.

"The amount of money that we got was directly proportional to the number of people who are believed to live in our community," he said.

The census also informs the political redistricting process and the allocation of seats in Congress and the Texas House as well as school board members.

Texas is expected to gain two—possibly three—seats in the U.S. House due to its population growth over the last decade.

"The more people we have counted, the more voters we get," Adler said.

Solutions

Since the census began early this year, outreach efforts have been targeted to hard-to-count communities.

Young children, homeless people, college students, people of color, immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission and people who do not speak English are all considered hard to count, according to the bureau.

The lowest self-response rate in Travis County is found in the census tract just west of the University of Texas at Austin campus, where only 27.8% residents have participated, according to a mapping tool created by the City University of New York.

Local complete count committees—including Make Black Count ATX and the Austin Asian Complete Count Committee—have been working to encourage participation for months, but they have been stymied by coronavirus restrictions and the abbreviated timeframe.

As a result, Adler and Eckhardt called on Austinites to complete the census if they haven't already and encourage others to do the same while there is still time left.

"We really just need all hands on deck at this point," Eckhardt said.

Austinites can complete the census online here, by calling 844-330-2020 or by mailing the questionnaire sent to their household.

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