The Rio Grande Valley’s congressional delegates in Washington both expressed concern about the two-week postponement of Census field operations and its impact on hard-to-count communities, such as Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham made the announcement last week, saying in a press reelase that field operations are suspended to April 1, though most field operations don’t begin until May.

“The Census Bureau is taking this step to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone going through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions,” Dillingham said in the release.

The suspension is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During this pause in field operations, the Census Bureau will continue to evaluate all 2020 Census operations,” Dillingham said. “Should any additional adjustments need to be made, the Census Bureau will communicate these changes broadly and promptly.”

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said the situation is not ideal but the health and safety of Americans comes first.

“The health and safety of Americans comes first. Suspending operations is not ideal, but we need to protect our Census workers and constituents,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “The Census remains a high priority as it will affect the distribution of billions in resources to our community and our political representation.”

Gonzalez said he will recommend to Dillingham that Census operations be extended past original deadlines to ensure a fair and accurate count.

“I am also inquiring how the Bureau intends to conduct hard-to-count communities because of this pandemic,” Gonzalez said. “Everyone must be counted. Anything short of that is unacceptable.”

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, also said suspension of field operations will have a detrimental impact on achieving an accurate Census count.

“However, the coronavirus pandemic has presented all of us with unprecendented challenges and it will be all the more important for those of us in positions of public trust, the media and all other stakeholders to do whatever necessary to help inform the public about the importance of fulfilling their census obligations,” Vela said in a statement.

To that note, Dillingham, the Census director, is encouraging the public to respond to the 2020 Census online, using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Responses can also be submitted by phone or email.

“Everyone should respond to the 2020 Census as soon as they receive their invitation — and when they’re finished, they can make sure their friends, families and social networks know about the importance of responding,” Dillingham said.

Those invitations began arriving in mailboxes in the Rio Grande Valley last week and filling out the questionairre online takes five to 10 minutes.

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