A key House Democrat told reporters Monday she wants to grant the Census Bureau its request to extend a deadline for delivering redistricting data as part of the next coronavirus relief legislation, but she hinted that the bill will come with more oversight strings attached.
Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said the legislation would include the 120-day extension sought by the Census Bureau to deliver new congressional seat apportionment figures by the end of next April, and new mapmaking data a few months later, by the end of July 2021.
“It is necessary, given what we are confronting. We cannot do the door-to-door enumeration,” Maloney said during an update on agency operations delayed by the pandemic.
The House will likely consider the bill either on its own or as part of the next large-scale economic legislation in response to COVID-19, she said.
But Maloney made clear that her committee wants more details about the Census Bureau’s plan to handle its new timeline, which would currently have operations resume in June. The agency paused field operations amid the pandemic to focus on self-response by households, which stands at 53 percent nationwide.
Maloney said she wants more briefings and information from Census staff about how the agency plans to count areas of the country that have lagging response rates, like her own New York district, which has lagged behind the national average.
The Oversight and Reform Committee has had a contentious relationship with the Trump administration. Under Democratic control, the panel has held Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress in a document fight over the administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question to this year’s census.
Maloney said the agency already has canceled several briefings without notice, and she hinted that the eventual legislation would include more oversight provisions.
“We want to make sure we do have access to the census director, that our staff has access to where they are proceeding in each state,” she said.
In a separate statement, Maloney noted that Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham briefed committee members last Friday after several delays.
“We expect the Bureau to work closely with us going forward so we can overcome this public health crisis and make the Census a success,” Maloney said in the statement.
During the call with committee members Friday, Census Bureau officials committed to providing a written explanation for the agency’s planned delays and changed operations. While the agency wants to start counting efforts again in June, officials cautioned that they may need more time beyond its self-imposed October deadline to finish field operations.
As part of that, the agency’s associate director for decennial census programs, Al Fontenot, said the agency may start “phased” field operations depending on the local conditions throughout the country.
Agency officials told the committee they will expand the paid media budget by $80 million and add another 26 languages, Maloney’s statement said. Also, the agency said it plans to use about $1.5 billion of a $2 billion contingency fund for the extended counting operations.