The Census Bureau announced Friday it will push back many of its efforts connected to the 2020 census and dip into a $2 billion contingency fund to keep the count on track after being diverted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The census will now run through mid-August as the agency works to meet an end-of-year deadline to deliver the numbers that determine the makeup of Congress. Census Bureau deputy director Al Fontenot told reporters Friday the agency is also considering more changes to the process.
“Of all of our worst nightmares of things that could have gone wrong with the census, we did not anticipate this set of actions,” Fontenot said.
He and other census officials emphasized the best way to help census operations would be to respond online, over the phone or through a paper form. About 18.6 million households have responded on their own so far, and the agency plans to publish a map of all response rates down to the county level starting Friday night.
Democrats in Congress and advocacy groups had previously raised concerns about the census proceeding as scheduled, and that the disruption from the virus may hurt the count of vulnerable communities.
Earlier this week, the agency announced it would cease field operations and outreach until at least the start of April. Friday’s announcement means delays for counting college students, the homeless, people in rural areas and others until mid- or late April. The agency has also pushed back its largest operation — sending out hundreds of thousands of door-knockers to households that don't respond — to the end of May.
For that effort, the agency has already offered jobs to 600,000 people, tens of thousands more than it originally planned. Tim Olson, the deputy director for operations, said the agency may need additional hires and wants far more than the 2.8 million applicants it already has.
The pause on fieldwork has frozen the hiring process, since potential employees now have to wait to get their fingerprints taken and other measures, Olson said. Once they’re hired, training and onboarding will also move to a primarily online process, he said.
Olson said the agency had completed about 12 percent of the distribution of paper forms in rural areas and Puerto Rico before stopping temporarily.
Fontenot said the agency plans to start pulling from a $2 billion contingency fund to provide for many of its operational changes.
The agency also will “update, expand and upgrade its communications campaign in line with the evolving situation,” according to Census Bureau official Ali Ahmad. It has already started a $500 million paid advertising campaign to motivate census participation.