South Texans worry border region will be undercounted with shortened census period

Politics

This April 5, 2020, photo shows a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. The U.S. Census Bureau needs more time to wrap up the once-a-decade count because of the coronavirus, opening the possibility of delays in drawing new legislative districts that could help determine what political party is in power, what laws pass or fail and whether communities of color get a voice in their states. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The announcement that census workers will shorten by a month the time they go door-to-door to solicit questionnaires has raised serious concerns in South Texas, a region that leaders say will go undercounted and could lose federal representation and millions in federal funding.

On Monday, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said workers will end field data collection on Sept. 30 “to accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline of December 31, 2020.” Dillingham promised the agency “will improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez (Courtesy Photo)

Field collection had previously been slated to go through Oct. 31, and several South Texas leaders are alarmed at what this could mean to this low-income region if it were to be undercounted.

“The decision to move the deadline up a month further limits the county’s efforts to reach all of the residents who may not have access to the technology required to complete the Census,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said Wednesday. “We must ensure that all our residents are informed on the importance of filling out the Census.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, on Wednesday called the decision “reckless” and “dangerous.”

“An accurate census is critical to the proper functioning of our representational democracy,” said Cuellar, who represents the cities of Laredo, San Antonio and Mission, Texas. “It is imperative that all communities are counted accurately and fully in order to provide resources such as health care, housing, and education to all individuals and families living in the United States.”

Cuellar, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said the census directly affects the allocation of more than $675 billion in federal funding every year. “It is imperative that all communities are counted accurately and fully in order to provide resources such as health care, housing, and education to all individuals and families living in the United States.

In April, the Census Bureau asked Congress for an extension through Halloween to collect data due to the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, told Border Report earlier this year that for every 1,000 households not counted, the region stands to lose $150 million in federal revenue.

Leaders say the door-to-door solicitation by census workers is especially important in South Texas because many families in this low-income region do not have access to technology to fill out online forms. Many also don’t have mailboxes and rely on post office boxes, to which the Census Bureau does not send forms.

The “Census’ month-early cut to door-to-door counting efforts is just another attack on under-served communities across the nation which are reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. We know what these cuts will do to our communities because we have experienced them with every shortage in budget funding from drainage infrastructure to health care access, and even basic education resources such as accessibility to Wi-Fi for our children’s learning. What’s more, an undercount of our community will only serve to block the much-needed congressional representation that the US Constitution guarantees our region,” Michelle Serrano of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network said.

Dillingham promised the hiring of more census workers and a push to get the word out to everyone to get counted. To date, 93 million households, or 63% in the nation have been counted.

Cuellar said Wednesday that the numbers are far lower in South Texas, where only 47% of households have responded in Hidalgo County; 39% in Starr County; 21% in Zapata County and 45% in Webb County, where the city of Laredo is located.

“Our area of South Texas would lose out,” Cuellar said. “That would hurt the state of Texas in funding and in getting a new member of Congress to be elected from here.”

Our area of South Texas would lose out.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas

Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), accused the Trump administration of shortening the time “so that so he can redraw political districts to dilute the voting power of our communities.”

Valdez-Cox said that after the Supreme Court last year prohibited the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the census, the president is trying to get around that by reducing the time that census workers will be in the field collecting data.

“We will keep fighting for our community. We know that when we get accurate information about the census into the hands of our neighbors, showing that it does not include a citizenship question and that the information collected is confidential, our neighbors are much more likely to participate. That’s why every person we reach with our 2020 Census campaign will be critical for the future well-being of the region,” she said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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