Advocates Call for Expanded 2020 Census COVID-19 Safety Measures
Michelle Boykins 202-296-2300, ext. 0144 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Advocates are calling for expanded measures to better protect the public and census workers, following the U.S. Census Bureau’s news briefing today on changes made to field operations due to COVID-19. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, National Urban League, and National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund noted gaps in the bureau’s plan and demanded stronger protections.
While providing gloves and hand sanitizer and requiring Census Bureau employees to wear masks as they interact with the public and each other are critical first steps, the bureau must, in consultation with public health experts, consider additional ways to mitigate risk — including employee testing and air filtration in census offices. The groups are urging a safety audit of current and planned operations to explore and implement additional measures to ensure the safest 2020 Census possible.
“Many of the communities hit hardest by job loss and illness right now are the same ones the census has missed for decades. Historically undercounted communities need increased, targeted outreach, and the outreach needs to be safe. Without proactive COVID-19 protections for the 2020 Census, people across the country could be denied the funding, resources, and political power they deserve. Congress and the Census Bureau need to take action and address the gaps in the current plans: the public and census employees deserve a safe and accurate count,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC said, “At a time of high levels of mistrust of the government, with our community struggling with health concerns amid COVID-19 and reeling from racist coronavirus attacks, it is essential for the U.S. Census Bureau to take every precaution to ensure the health and safety of our communities, especially as it begins to send out census takers to follow-up in person.”
“In addition to facing the pandemic’s severe economic consequences, Latinos across the country are also experiencing the highest rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths,” stated Arturo Vargas, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund CEO. “That is why the Census Bureau’s Nonresponse Follow-up operation efforts to reach Latino households that have not yet responded must be thorough and complete, while requiring stringent safety practices and aggressive messaging that conveys the cacophony of the crisis. Without such considerations, we are at risk of having a failed census.”
“Considering the obstacles that already need to be overcome for Black Americans to be fairly counted in the 2020 Census, we cannot allow the risk of contracting coronavirus to be one more,” said Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. “It is imperative that the Census Bureau take every precaution not only to protect workers and the vulnerable communities they serve from infection, but also to offer these communities every reassurance that their participation is safe.”
The public health crisis has impacted response rates to the 2020 Census particularly in historically undercounted communities. Black, Latino, and Native communities, in particular, are facing lagging self-response rates, which will necessitate more door-to-door enumeration. At the same time, federal data has shown that people of color, who comprise a significant portion of historically undercounted communities, have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
In addition, Census Bureau employees have reported a lack of confidence in the agency’s safety measures.
As the Census Bureau implements additional public health protections, it is critical that it supplements a clear and detailed plan that includes increases in targeted outreach so that it can execute these census operations in a way that is safe, fair, and doesn’t leave communities behind.