AUSTIN (KXAN) — Confusion remains over whether the 2020 Census count will end in just a few days from now or in a month, so outreach groups in Texas say they are simply advising the public to fill out the Census “as soon as they possibly can.”

While a federal court order last week required the U.S. Census Bureau to continue counting U.S. Census responses up until Oct. 31, the U.S. Justice Department said it intends to appeal that order.

Timelines for Census deadlines

Back in April, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced that due to complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline for responses to be collected for the 2020 Census would be extended to Oct. 31. At that time, they also extended the deadline for the apportionment counts to be delivered to the President from Dec. 31 to April 20, 2021.

But in August, the Census Bureau announced that the deadline to end the count would actually fall a month earlier than census leaders had indicated in April, requiring that households complete the census by September 30.

On Thursday, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction which requires the count to continue through Oct. 31. The District Court Judge wrote that while the Trump Administration has argued the counting process should be sped up to meet the Dec. 31 deadline to get the results to the President, she noted that administration officials had said as recently as two weeks prior that they expected to miss that deadline regardless. She wrote that the plaintiffs, who include the National Urban League, “would suffer irreparable harm from an inaccurate census count.”

Friday, the U.S. Justice Department gave notice that it would be appealing the federal court’s decision

Outreach in Texas

Many local governments in Texas have been trying to get out the message to the public to fill out the 2020 Census before Sept. 30. According to the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, who gathers and maps the latest updates from the Census Bureau, an estimated 98.2% of the total household units in Texas have been counted compared to 97.7% nationwide.

John Lawler, who manages the Census Program for Austin and Travis County, said that his team decided to save funding and resources for a possible Oct. 31 deadline given that they weren’t sure how the federal court would rule.

“We welcome this extension to continue encouraging residents to take part in the Census and will leverage every opportunity to safely do so,” Lawler said. “There is simply too much at stake in this year’s Census to not do everything we can to ensure every Travis County resident is counted.”

Montserrat Garibay, Secretary and Treasurer for Texas AFL-CIO, explained that her organization is still telling members of the public to plan for a Sept. 30 deadline and get the census completed “as soon as possible.”

“We don’t want to tell people to wait until October and then September is the last day, right?” Garibay explained.

Her organization represents union members all across Texas. Not only do they have 40 ambassadors within their organization who do census outreach in different regions, they have also been calling up members for the past four months to ensure they’ve filled out the census.

Garibay noted how the 2010 Census undercounted people of color in the U.S. and that she hopes the 2020 Census is different.

“This is something, it’s such an important thing to make sure everyone gets counted, so our communities and our children get the resources that they need, ” she said. “So we decided that this was a very important education piece for our members to understand what is the census, why it is so important. “

This weekend during a Texas AFL-CIO event where bags of food were distributed to union members who are out of work during the pandemic, the organization made sure to also include information about the 2020 Census in the bags.

Garibay said trying to launch outreach amid the confusion the census deadline has been “an uphill battle for sure.”

Some members of these Texas unions are worried about the citizenship question the Trump administration had attempted unsuccessfully to put on the census. Garibay said that bilingual census ambassadors in her organization have been able to reach out to members with these worries and explain that there is no citizenship question on this census.

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. 

Garibay said her organization is prepared to continue reaching out to their members about the census for as long as they need to. They have a Facebook Live event planned to do just that on Monday.

“I would just ask people to call their friends, text their friends and ask them ‘hey, have you filled out the census?'” she suggested.