Alaska’s U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are the only Republicans among a group of 48 U.S. Senators who on Tuesday called for an extension of the U.S. Census to be included in the pending COVID-19 relief package.
Alaska lags the nation in response to the decennial count of U.S. residents at just over 50% of households responding (the national response rate is 63.4%). The U.S. Census is a critical metric used not only to draw election districts but also in distributing federal dollars to communities.
“Extending the deadlines for the delivery of these files in the next COVID-19 relief package will ensure that the Census Bureau has adequate time to complete a full, fair, and accurate 2020 Census,” says the letter, which is headlined by Murkowski and Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz. “It will also ensure that both the Congress and the states receive accurate data for apportionment and redistricting. We thank you for your consideration of our request.”
The U.S. Census Bureau announced earlier this month that it planned to cut its collection time a month short, claiming the need to have the processed data done in time to meet deadlines set by federal law. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has asked Congress for an extension to keep counting through Oct 31, the deadline set when it became clear that the pandemic would complicate counting.
The shortened deadlines have raised concerns that minorities, low-income households and renters will be undercount, leading to a potentially big advantage for Republicans once political district maps are redrawn. While Murkowski and Sullivan have called for an extension, GOP leaders have suggested they would be OK with a shortened count.
Currently, the census is turning to the more labor-intensive portion of the count that seeks to contact households that have not yet responded.
In Alaska, the importance of an accurate count has been particularly important to Alaska Native leaders. The Alaska Federation of Natives have also called for an extension, as well as House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, who is Alaska Native.
“The barriers to a complete count in Alaska are already very high,” Edgmon wrote to Murkowski and Sullivan earlier this month. “We are considered one of the most difficult states to count, and the Alaska Native community in particular has historically been undercounted, depriving Alaskans of critical resources for everything from infrastructure to education to clean drinking water. Currently, Alaska has the lowest self-response rate in the nation. If the ‘Nonresponse Follow-up Operation’ is cut short, Alaskans could easily suffer the largest consequences of any state, shortchanging our state of valuable federal dollars flowing into our economy over the next decade.”
For more information on the census and Alaska, visit Alaska Counts.