Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pandemic thwarts rural efforts to increase census response

Rural areas, already behind in responding to the 2020 census, are struggling to catch up before the Bureau of the Census ends counting efforts on Sept. 30, a month sooner than previously announced, Seth Bodine reports for Harvest Public Media.

Though the Census Bureau extended the deadline for self-response, it halted most of its in-person counting efforts this spring, local leaders and organizations have been trying to pick up the slack, Bodine reports. But the pandemic has made that difficult, and many report a lower response rate than normal, possibly because of lower internet access and language barriers.

An undercount could gut many small towns' ability to qualify for much-needed funding and could result in less representation for rural residents in state Houses. "More than $1.5 trillion in federal funds each year are distributed based on census data," Julia Sclafani reports for Searchlight New Mexico. "That includes funds for food assistance, childcare, Medicaid, Head Start, hospitals, schools, economic development, housing, transportation, and hundreds of other programs that benefit children, families, businesses and communities."

The Trump administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the census has spooked many rural Hispanic immigrants, some undocumented, who fear they will be deported for filling out the census, Scalfani reports. Native Americans living in tribal lands may be undercounted as well, since many have closed entry to nonresidents in an effort to contain the pandemic; that will make in-person census campaigns difficult or impossible.

In a recent Government Executive podcast, University of Mississippi sociology professor John Green discussed the challenges facing rural communities during the 2020 census count. Click here to listen. And for a deeper dive, the Rural Health Information Hub has a toolkit with resources for those covering the 2020 census.

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