Austin (KXAN) — With 10 days remaining until counting for the 2020 Census effort is scheduled to stop, Austin area leaders are making a final push to try and get everyone in the area counted.
State Senator Sarah Eckhardt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler held a press conference at 10:00 a.m. on Monday with KXAN reporter Alyssa Goard serving as the pool reporter.
Adler told reporters that so far only around 66% of households in the city of Austin have been counted. He said that if the count were to end today, that level of an undercount would translate in a loss of funding to Austin and Travis County of $350 million every year.
That 66% is the self-response rate which came from the Graduate Center at City University of New York who analyzes and maps recent reporting from the U.S. Census Bureau to track which regions are “hardest to count.” The self-response rate refers to the rate of households who have filled out the Census form on their own without a Census worker doing outreach. The CUNY numbers updated on September 21 showed an updated self-response rate for the city of Austin of 66.2%.
Within the city of Austin, the areas in the CUNY mapping project which show the lowest reporting rates so far on the 2020 census include parts of southeast Austin, parts of northeast Austin, and the area west of the University of Texas at Austin campus.
KXAN has reported recently on how Census outreach leaders in Austin have had difficulty with locating UT Austin students who may have had an Austin residence back in the Spring but have since moved elsewhere to take online classes for the fall. On the CUNY map, the Census tract just west of campus has the lowest reporting rate in all of Austin at 27.9%. Leaders behind the city and county effort for census outreach say they’ve patterned with nonprofit Move Texas as well as UT student leaders to address the low response rates.
John Lawler, the City of Austin Travis County Census Program Manager explained that UT Austin sent out an email out to its student body reminding students to take the census several months ago. Lawler said that his team was able to track an increase in self-response rates in student neighborhoods after this email and he is hopeful that UT Austin will help with similar direct outreach to students in the coming days.
“This is crunch time on the Census,” Adler said, calling on members of the public to share Census messaging once a day for the next ten days. He reminded the public that the Census takes roughly ten minutes to fill out.
While the Census Bureau announced in April that the end date for counting would be pushed back from July 31 to October 31, the bureau announced in August that all counting efforts would be ending a month early.
That means members of the public have until September 30 to participate.
“There are a lot of things that are giving rise to concerns about response rates, and one of the things is that the 30 days were taken off,” Adler said.
He mentioned that while he was glad to see recent funding the state put toward Census outreach efforts, he is, ” disappointed that that money wasn’t larger and that it didn’t come 8 months ago.”
Eckhardt echoed her agreement with Adler, wishing the state had contributed more to these efforts sooner.
Austin and Travis County formed a “complete count committee” in April of 2019 (led by Mayor Adler and then-Travis County Judge Eckhardt). The committee said at the time that an area undercount of even 1 percent in 2020 could result in a significant loss of money for local governments.
The city and the county have dispatched individual “complete count committees” in an effort to get population subgroups such as Hispanic/Latino residents or people experiencing homelessness counted.
But as Eckhardt noted, “there were a lot of external circumstances that really put a dent in a lot of our plans for outreach.”
Though the effort from President Donald Trump’s administration to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census was ultimately unsuccessful, Eckhardt acknowledged there is still some lingering fear in immigrant communities who had worries over what would be done with that data.
“It’s safe to take the Census,” she emphasized. “This information will not be used for immigration purposes.”
If people don’t fill out the census, the numbers reported result in a distribution of federal services and congressional representation that doesn’t match the population’s needs.
Census data helps to determine where more than $800 billion in federal funding is sent nationwide. Programs impacted include Medicaid, Medicare, highway planning and construction, Section 8 housing, Title 1 grants to local education agencies, the National School Lunch Program, State Children’s Health Insurance and more.
The census is required every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution.