The U.S. Census Bureau announced Friday that it is pushing back its deadline for collecting responses to the 2020 Census, the decennial population count mandated by the U.S. Constitution, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Visits from census takers who follow up with households that have not responded to the census themselves were scheduled to begin on May 13. Those visits now are scheduled to start May 28.
The deadline for the bureau to finish that follow-up operation is now Aug. 14, pushed back from July 31.
By law, the bureau must get population counts to the president and Congress by Dec. 31, and the bureau is “laser focused on that" date, a Census Bureau spokesperson said.
Albert Fontenot Jr., associate director for decennial programs for the Census Bureau, said that although contingency plans were built into the 2020 Census, “of all our worst nightmares” the bureau did not anticipate a pandemic. But during a telephone news conference, he said the plan for the population count "is resilient and it’s adaptive,” and the bureau will reevaluate and adjust plans as needed in the coming months.
This week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf asked the Census Bureau to extend its data collection deadline, citing cancellations of community events meant to promote residents’ participation in the census and a public distracted by the pandemic.
The decennial census determines how hundreds of billions of dollars is distributed to state and local governments, the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House, and the boundaries of voting districts. The Census Bureau’s deadline to get data to the states for redistricting is March 31, 2021.
The bureau had announced this week that it was suspending field operations and field supervisor training for two weeks, until April 1. Hiring also has been suspended during that time.
However, the Census Bureau is continuing to encourage people to apply for temporary positions. Roughly 8,000 people applied on Friday alone and 2.8 million people have applied so far, surpassing the bureau’s application goals. More than 600,000 people have accepted temporary census positions in the last couple of weeks.
Once the bureau resumes hiring, it will be offering jobs to more people than necessary “to accommodate for an expected greater attrition,” said Timothy Olson, associate director for field operations at the Census Bureau.