This year’s census may finish months late because of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting the Trump administration to seek a significant delay in handing over the population results necessary to draw congressional and legislative districts.
Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee said that they learned in a conference call Monday with administration officials that the Census Bureau wants to delay field operations by another month, to June 1, and blow past the deadline to deliver new congressional seat distributions by four months, to April 30, 2021.
The agency has already suspended field operations by more than a month to help tamp down the spread of the virus, despite concerns the delays will make it more difficult to count more than 300 million people nationwide.
“The Oversight Committee will carefully examine the Administration’s request, but we need more information that the Administration has been unwilling to provide,” said the committee's chair, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., in a statement.
The constitution mandates a census be taken every 10 years, and current statute gives the administration until the end of 2020 to finalize the distribution of congressional seats between states. The administration also gets until spring 2021 to release the specific data for new maps.
In a statement, Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook confirmed the administration would give out the new calculation of congressional seats in April 2021, and the final data to draw new legislative maps in July.
The administration wants a 120-day extension on the deadline in the Census Act, which lays out the counting process, he said. The administration has already dipped into a $2 billion contingency fund to deal with the crisis, which included increased advertising spending beyond a $500 million campaign to encourage turnout.
White House and Commerce Department officials participated in the conference call with lawmakers, Maloney said. She and House Democrats have had a contentious relationship with the administration over census issues, including holding Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to provide documents related to the administration’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census.
The Census Bureau started delaying operations soon after they began the count last month. It stopped hiring many of its temporary employees, halted counting near college campuses and delayed efforts to count the homeless.
Cook pointed out that more than 48 percent of households have already responded to the census, which has an online option for the first time in history. Census officials originally planned on about 60 percent of the households in the country responding on their own before having to send hundreds of thousands of temporary workers door-to-door across the country to count those who did not respond.
Now the agency plans to send those workers in August with personal protective equipment like face masks in order to prevent the spread of the virus.