Time is becoming short for census participation

Our decennial census has entered the final public phase; volunteers have started hitting the streets in order to collect information from households that haven’t provided their information to the U.S. Census Bureau. In light of the ongoing threat from the novel coronavirus, those volunteers in a very real sense are putting their lives at risk in order to gather the information. They believe participation is that important.

President Trump recently issued an executive order shortening the time those volunteers have to gather the information, setting a cutoff date for the end of this month.

This makes it all the more important to fill out the questionnaire as soon as possible.

It also creates special challenges for areas like South Texas, which has two major challenges to securing an accurate count. The first is the fear of many immigrants, and their families, that the information might be used against them. Citizenship status is not part of the data gathered, however.

Another factor affecting the Valley count is the roughly 1,400 colonias that pepper the region. Many began as illegal developments and many don’t have addresses that a census form could reach — or a volunteer might find.

Why is the census so important? Because so much is at stake. The information gathered in the population count will affect the Rio Grande Valley directly for at least 10 years, and indirectly for decades to come. That begins with the primary reason for the census as stated in the Constitution: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States … according to their respective Numbers ….” The Valley currently shares representation from three U.S. House members — Filemon Vela, Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar. Longtime residents might remember when we had a single voice in Washington, and even someone who became as influential as the late Eligio “Kika” de la Garza didn’t match the benefits of our current trio of advocacy.

Similarly, population figures are used also to reset boundaries for state, county and other local political districts. As those boundaries change some people might find their representation change in Congress, city commission or even their school board.

Advocates for full census participation often note how it affects the allocation of funding, and with good reason. An undercount means that the amount of money sent here to create and maintain infrastructure, provide services and allocate block grants won’t be enough to offset the needs and uses of the population. Valley residents often complain about the condition of roads, drainage problems and other inadequacies; those could be the result of insufficient funding caused by inaccurate census counts.

Delays in the process caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the new, tighter window for data collection, adds urgency to the effort to count all Valley residents as quickly as possible. If you haven’t provided your information, please cooperate with any census taker who arrives at your door, or go to website 2020census.gov and respond to the prompts; the entire process should take about 10 minutes and basic information requested — size of household, ages, etc.