Bipartisan Senate bill preventing a rushed census would also prevent harm to Native communities
A bipartisan Senate bill seeks to block the Trump administration from stopping the census count early and guaranteeing an undercount of the U.S. population as a whole, and especially in communities of color and rural communities. Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan joined with Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz to introduce the bill, which would require the Census Bureau to keep trying to count the population until the original deadline of Oct. 31, and would extend the deadline for reporting data by four months.
The big question, of course, is if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow the legislation a vote in time to make a difference, or if he’ll send it to his legislative graveyard despite its Republican sponsors. Reps. Don Young and Ruben Gallego, the former another Alaska Republican and the latter an Arizona Democrat, have introduced an identical bill in the House. The House previously passed a census extension in the HEROES Act.
Every day now, census takers are knocking on doors, looking for people who haven’t filled out the census online, by mail, or by phone. It’s grueling work but it’s so important. Just 65.9% of households filled out the census on their own, and another 26.6% have been counted by census takers, the agency reported. But that leaves 8% of households—including many of the most vulnerable—yet to count. Two more weeks isn’t going to do it.
In 2010, Native communities were especially undercounted, and they fear the same thing happening in 2020. Olympic gold medalist and Running Strong for American Indian Youth spokesperson Billy Mills delivered more than 2,000 signatures to the Senate this week calling for the original Oct. 31 deadline to be upheld.
”The Census is one of the most valuable tools for change and representation in Indian Country,” Mills, an Oglala Lakota who remains the only person from the Americas to win the Olympic 10,000 meters in track, said. “Our Native American communities deserve to be counted and heard.”
An undercount is “going to have a devastating impact to Indian Country,” the National Congress of American Indians’ Lycia Maddocks told The Christian Science Monitor. “It will have lasting effects over the next 10 years. That’s a fact.” Lasting effects like the loss of $14,000 in funding per uncounted family of four—and as of Sept. 1, just 24% of residents of Montana tribal areas had been counted.
There are multiple court cases seeking to force the federal government to finish the count, but that will take time and we know that the Trump administration is more than willing to flout court decisions. Congress needs to act, and that means McConnell needs to allow a vote.