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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.
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."
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.
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.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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