Democrats lashed out at the Census Bureau Tuesday after the agency’s chief announced he would offer bonuses to speed up the counting and would conclude in-person data gathering by the end of September — a month before the schedule had called for.
Director Steven Dillingham said late Monday that the compressed schedule would be needed to meet the end-of-year deadline for delivering a final national count and the numbers to be used for apportioning seats in the House of Representatives among the states.
He said new hiring and bonuses for extra hours worked by enumerators — the people who go door-to-door to count those who didn’t respond to mailings — should help with the speedier timeline.
But congressional Democrats said he’s short-changing the count, which they feared would mean people left uncounted, skewing the final numbers.
“This president has been trying to undermine the Census since before it began,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. “In seeking intentionally to undercount the poor, minorities and immigrant communities, he is hoping to skew the upcoming redistricting process and transfer funding and resources away from communities that need it most.”
He said the House would launch an investigation, and indeed, Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney said she’s asked Mr. Dillingham to let her interview top agency officials as part of a probe.
The usual census count has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, which slashed the amount of in-person canvassing that could occur during the spring.
Nearly 63% of households have responded to initial overtures for the census, leaving nearly two in five that have not self-reported yet. Many of those will require an in-person visit.
Democrats said that was a poor response rate for this late in the season.
The law requires that the count be completed by the end of this year, but Democrats say that’s impossible. They say a delay is preferable to a bad count.
The Trump administration, though, says it wants to stick with the law.
Complicating the dispute is President Trump’s repeated efforts to tie immigration policy into the 2020 census.
He had attempted to force a question about citizenship into the full 2020 count, elevating it from a smaller census survey that already asks about it. Democrats complained that might scare immigrants — legal and illegal — away from answering.
In the end, the Supreme Court ruled Mr. Trump cut too many corners and left him no time to repair the question.
Last month the president took a mulligan, announcing an executive order directing the Census Bureau to produce not only the full census count, but also another count that leaves out illegal immigrants. That count, he says, would be used for the apportioning of House seats.
That order is being challenged in the courts as illegal, and experts say it’s probably impossible to do anyway.
Mr. Dillingham has said his agency will try to comply with the executive order.