Census head says order is being obeyed, but gripes continue

National

FILE – This Sunday, April 5, 2020, photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. The U.S. Census Bureau has spent much of the past year defending itself against allegations that its duties have been overtaken by politics. With a failed attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question, the hiring of three political appointees with limited experience to top positions, a sped-up schedule and a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude undocumented residents from the process of redrawing congressional districts, the 2020 census has descended into a high-stakes partisan battle. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

The head of the U.S. Census Bureau says in a court declaration that the agency is complying with a judge’s order for the 2020 census to continue through the end of October, even as the judge keeps fielding complaints from census takers about corners being cut in order to close cases and workers being laid off for no reason.

Agency contracts have been extended allowing people to self-respond to the questionnaire online, by mail or by phone through this month, and census takers are still knocking on doors in areas where 100% of households haven’t been counted yet, Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham said in a statement to the court Monday.

Census staff are still going to hard-to-count neighborhoods to help residents fill out the forms, and the bureau is continuing advertisement, particularly in tribal areas, Dillingham said.

The statement of compliance from Dillingham was mandated by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh last week after she determined that the statistical agency and the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau, had violated her earlier injunction by picking Oct. 5 to end the census. She threatened to initiate contempt proceedings or sanctions if they again violate her injunction, which the Trump administration has appealed.

The judge also required the Census Bureau to send out a text last Friday to all staff working on the 2020 census that said the head count of every U.S. resident was continuing through Oct. 31.

Koh’s injunction suspended a Sept. 30 deadline for ending the head count and also a Dec. 31 deadline for turning in numbers used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets in a process known as apportionment. By doing this, the deadlines reverted back to a previous Census Bureau plan that had field operations ending Oct. 31 and the reporting of apportionment figures at the end of April.

With the injunction, the judge sided with civil rights groups and local governments that had sued the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Those groups had argued that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the counting ended in September.

Dillingham said in his statement that the Census Bureau would be letting go of some census workers whose responsibilities were done — such as those counting people living in transitory housing.

But several census workers said in complaints to Koh’s office that they had been laid off when there was still work to do or told that there were no more households to count in their areas when that wasn’t the case.

A census taker from Texas said in an email sent Monday to Koh’s court that a manager from the McAllen office had encouraged census takers, also known as enumerators, to resign, claiming they were 100% done.

“That is not true,” said the census taker, whose name was redacted in the email. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Another census taker from Manhattan sent in an email to Koh last Friday that all of his remaining cases disappeared on the app he uses to record responses, and he was told he had been put on “inactive status” because of problems with his job performance.

“There have never been any performance issues with me and my supervisor indicated that I am the second best enumerator on his team,” said the census taker who also asked for anonymity in the email.

As of Monday, 99.7% of households nationwide had been counted, according to the Census Bureau, although Montana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana hadn’t yet crossed the 99% threshold.

The Census Bureau also reported Tuesday that it had more than 203,000 employees working on the 2020 census the second-to-last week in September, down from more than 229,000 workers in the previous week.

The census determines how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed each year.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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