City officials would welcome an additional month to make sure Philadelphians are counted in the 2020 Census, but they’re not letting a federal judge’s ruling extending the deadline change their plans just yet. On Friday, federal officials appealed the ruling.
A judge in California ruled late Thursday that the once-a-decade population count that was scheduled to end Sept. 30 must continue through Oct. 31. Civil rights organizations and local governments had sued to restore the previous Oct. 31 deadline, meant to account for challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. They argued that since a shortened census timeline means less time to reach historically undercounted communities, such as people of color and immigrants, the constitutionally mandated census of every person living in the United States would undercount the population.
The federal judge agreed that the shortened schedule would lead to inaccuracies in the count, which is used to distribute more than $1.5 trillion in federal funds to state and local governments each year, to determine the boundaries of voting districts, and to determine how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House.
On Friday, attorneys for the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau, filed an appeal to keep this month’s deadline.
So for now, Philadelphia is still planning for next Wednesday to be the final day of the census and encourages Philadelphians to respond before then to make sure they are counted and the city gets its fair share of funding, said Stephanie Reid, executive director of Philly Counts, the city’s initiative to get Philadelphians counted.
“While of course we are very happy to see this ruling, we don’t want to prematurely start talking about different timelines until we have clear guidance from the Census Bureau,” Reid said. The city doesn’t want to cause confusion by introducing a new deadline before it’s finalized and run the risk of residents putting off responding, she said.
While awaiting final guidance from the courts and the Census Bureau, the city will continue what could be its final few days to persuade Philadelphians to respond. Self-responses tend to be more accurate than those collected by census takers. But only a little more than half — 55.5% — of Philadelphia households had filled out forms online, by phone, or by mail, as of Thursday. Census takers continue to knock on doors of households that have not responded to ask them questions in person. Throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, more than 97% of households have been counted through both self-response and census field operations.
City volunteers will keep calling Philadelphians to ask them to participate and showing up in neighborhoods to help residents fill out their forms online. Some residents have said they are waiting to get paper forms in the mail, but those who don’t already have paper questionnaires will not be getting them. The city is asking residents to respond at 2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020.
Fernando Armstrong, director of the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Office, said Friday that his office will continue to support local awareness efforts to encourage residents to fill out census questionnaires until the final deadline.