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What an early end to the census count means for Delaware

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The U.S. Census Bureau
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The U.S. Supreme Court decided Tuesday to suspend a lower court decision forcing the Census Bureau to keep counting through the end of the month. The Bureau will stop accepting self-responses over the internet Oct. 15 at 11:59 p.m. Hawaii time. 

“We are all disappointed that we’re going to lose two weeks,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who chairs Delaware’s Complete Count Commission. “Every opportunity that we can have to ensure that each and every person in our state gets counted is really important.”

The Census count happens once every ten years. It is used to determine Congressional representation as well as federal funding for things like school lunch programs, healthcare and infrastructure.  The 2020 Census will also be used for redistricting of Delaware’s state legislative map.  

Hall-Long says the early stop means fewer people will be included in the nationwide count. She says that will likely translate into less potential federal funding for Delaware.  

“Delaware will lose money and headcounts,” Hall-Long said. “But we worked really hard to get those monies.”

Researchers with the George Washington Institute of Public Policy estimated that Delaware received more than $2,200 per person through 16 large federal assistance programs that distribute funds on the basis of the census count in Fiscal Year 2015.  Delaware received a total of more than $3 billion through 55 federal spending programs guided by 2010 Census data the next Fiscal Year.

As of Wednesday, Delaware’s self-response rate was below the national average reported on the Census Bureau’s website. But Delaware is among the vast majority of states in which the Census Bureau says 99.9 percent of households have been counted. 

Hall-Long says she is wary about the accuracy of this measure—and worries it may not reflect the actual percentage of people counted. 

“You’re not talking necessarily about the college student who’s away,  or you're not talking about the individual who’s in a congregate residential setting— a shelter, a prison,” she said. “Because you have contacted a household doesn't mean you have contacted everyone in the household. So there’s kind of a play on words there, and we’ve got to be careful with it.”

 

Public information officials at the Census Bureau declined to address whether Delaware’s overall participation rate varies geographically or among demographics when reached by email Thursday.

New Castle County Public Relations Officer Jessica Gibson-Brokenbaugh has led the County’s census efforts. Even with the abrupt stop Thursday, she’s optimistic about the count advocates and federal officials were able to secure in Delaware. 

“You try to do as much as you can and there’s always a little bit more that you can do in any type of outreach project like this,” said Gibson-Brokenbaugh. “But we’re confident that we exceeded the 2010 census, which means we’ve already put ourselves in a better place.”

Rmanda Chapman, a local partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, said Thursday that this year Delaware exceeded its count numbers from 2010, and exceeded the Census Bureau’s goals for hard-to-count areas. Public information officials at the Census Bureau did not address an emailed question about whether Delaware had exceeded its 2010 enumeration rate.

Gibson-Brokenbaugh says this year census enumerators had more success knocking on the doors of households that had not self-responded than they did in 2010. She attributes this to the County’s effort to get locals hired to enumerate in their own communities. 

“That approach worked,” she said. “It was great being out with individuals who live in those communities who can say, ‘Hey Miss So-and-so, make sure to come back and complete your census,’ and have a familiar face.”

 

Gibson-Brokenbaugh says the pandemic forced the County to pivot to more online promotion of the census than it originally planned. This included geo-targeted advertisements on smartphone apps. 

“What we believe has happened in this time is we’ve created a new … generation of census awareness that I think we’re going to see a great impact in 2030,” Gibson-Brokenbaugh said. 

Hall-Long sees the first-time investment of state funds in the Complete Count Commission as key to counteracting the pandemic’s impact on the count.

“I’m really pleased with the number that we have, considering the hundreds of events that we missed and the hundreds of doors that people could not bang on sooner,” she said. 

The City of Wilmington put out a press release Thursday encouraging residents to fill out the census if they hadn’t already. 

“The data gathered through the census helps create jobs, provide housing, prepare for emergencies, build roads, schools, and hospitals, and is used to determine how many seats the state of Delaware will have in Congress,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki in a statement. “Everyone must be counted, so please complete the Census today before time runs out.” 

The U.S. Department of Justice has argued it needs to stop counting in order to meet the Dec. 31 deadline to deliver the first set of census results to the president.

President Trump wants to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the count that determines the reallocation of House seats. NPR reports that the Census Bureau meeting the Dec. 31 delivery deadline would allow the President to try to make this change, whether or not he is re-elected. The legal fight over whether the President can make this change is before the Supreme Court.  

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long condemns this effort by the Trump Administration. 

“Every person in our country needs to be counted,” said Hall-Long. “It’s unacceptable to leave people out who are here in our boundaries.”

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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