Whitmer, 7 govs. ask Census Bureau to re-extend deadline

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    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined seven other governors in sending a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Commerce that asks them to re-extend the national census collection and response deadline to Oct. 31. 

    Whitmer joined Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott in signing off on the request.

    The census dictates how many federal dollars Michigan and other states will receive for education, public safety, health care, infrastructure and other sectors in the next 10 years. 

    Back in April, the U.S. Congress and the White House chose to push data collecting and response deadlines to Oct. 31 because counting operations were deemed to be hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    But the Census Bureau, a commerce agency tasked with producing data about Americans and the economy, recently moved the collection and response deadline back a month. 

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    The deadline is now Sept. 30, a full month before the initial agreed-upon date. Census takers have until then to conduct surveys. In-person, online, phone and mail operations will end that day. 

    The governors’ letter, dated Aug. 18, was sent to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham. In it, governors wrote they are deeply concerned about the change and how it will affect the tallying of their states’ hard to count communities. Those are deemed by the bureau as hard to locate, hard to interview, hard to contact and hard to persuade. 

    “Your recent announcement calls into question how millions of Americans who have yet to fill out their 2020 Census will be counted,” the governors wrote. “It is surprising to hear how optimistic the Census Bureau is about being able to reach 100% in less than 60 days, given the current daily self-response rate and the fact that, as of the writing of this letter, only 63% of the country has responded to the 2020 Census.

    “By your own calculations made when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the October 31 date is crucial for the Census Bureau to be able to meet its constitutional obligation and do it in a way that does not jeopardize the public health,” they added. 

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    The governors also expressed concern that shortening the time span to collect responses could hinder outreach to Tribal communities, communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities and rural communities.

    “These communities are already being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and not providing them enough time to complete their 2020 Census would be denying them valuable resources needed for their recovery from this crisis,” they wrote. 

    Whitmer has said the “last-minute, under-the-cover-of-darkness changes” pose a threat to getting an accurate count of people and could throw a wrench into determining federal funding and states’ representation in Congress.

    “I urge the U.S. Census Bureau to restore the Oct. 31 deadline to give states the time needed to get a complete and accurate count,” Whitmer said. “I’m also calling on all Michigan residents to complete the Census immediately, whether it’s online, by phone, or by mail, to ensure our communities receive the resources they’ve worked so hard to earn.” 

    Approximately 3.3 million people in Michigan are deemed hard to count, according to a Census Bureau Low Response Score calculation.

    C.J. Moore
    C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.