County restarts census count; Sept. 30 ruling extends deadline again

Cameron County is re-mobilizing its 2020 census efforts after a federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered that the count continue through Oct. 31.

The Trump administration attempted to end the count early, with the Commerce Department on Sept. 28 tweeting that the “target date” for winding down the census was Oct. 5. That announcement was in defiance of an order four days previous by a California federal district court that said the census count must continue through Oct. 31. The administration requested a temporary stay on that ruling, but was denied by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week.

The original deadline to end counting was July 31, though the Census Bureau pushed it back to Oct. 31 in order to help ensure an accurate count of every U.S. resident as stipulated by the Constitution. The bureau reversed course in early August, moving the deadline to the end of September, triggering a lawsuit that resulted in the California judge’s ruling.

“I think everybody has been a bit confused,” said County Clerk Sylvia Garza-Perez. “No one has been more confused than me.”

Temporary census workers in the Rio Grande Valley whose last day was to have been Sept. 30 are now on the job — presumably with pay — through the end of the month, she said.

“They’re back on board until (Oct. 31),” she said. “We need them.”

Those workers go door to door enumerating households, and also help with events designed to get more people to fill out the census questionnaire, which is not concerned with immigration status, Garza-Perez said. Now that the deadline has again been reset to Oct. 31, the county is brainstorming ways to count as many uncounted residents as possible in the remaining weeks.

“Hopefully this week and the following week we’ll have some activities going on,” Garza-Perez said. “We’ll be meeting and making some phone calls with some of our community partners to see how they can strategize with us and help us continue counting everyone in the Rio Grande Valley, and in Cameron County as well.”

One of those ideas is to see if H-E-B will pitch in on the census effort and perhaps allow census workers to set up at store locations in undercounted areas, she said.

“I pitched that to them on Saturday and I’m waiting for them to call me back,” Garza-Perez said. “Everybody goes to H-E-B.”

She said the county is targeting census tracts with the lowest response rates, including rural areas around La Feria and Santa Rosa.

“Los Indios is still low,” Garza-Perez said. “In Los Indios I think that we needed 53 households to reach 50 percent.”

The county overall needs to enumerate about 10,000 more households to get to a 60-percent response rate, she said. The county’s 2010 census rate was 56.4 percent. It takes 1,230 households to increase the response rate by 1 percent, Garza-Perez said.

“We’re getting there slowly but surely, but it’s taking a lot of work,” she said. “We would love to get to 60 percent.”

The county also plans during the final weeks to encourage its largest employers, including H-E-B and school districts, to help make sure all their employees participate in the census, Garza-Perez said.

“If large employers made an effort to ensure that all their employees have been counted, that would definitely be a big shot to the Valley,” she said.

Another major focus is Brownsville Independent School District, which, with over 6,000 employees, would put a big dent in the census if all its employees were counted, Garza-Perez said, adding that she’d like to see the same result from all the county’s school districts.

“If BISD did 3,000 or 4,000 of their employees that would definitely jump us up to at least the 2010 numbers,” she said.

Public school funding is directly tied to the census count, since the count determines federal funding allocations based on population, Garza-Perez said.

“The federal funding that we receive for our school districts directly impacts every school district,” she said. “Those federally funded programs that provide meals in the morning during the day, and after school lunches, those are all federally funded. All their programs such as dyslexia labs, autistic labs, bilingual education — all those programs are federally funded, so the more accuracy we have on the count the more we’ll be able to receive funding for these programs.”

Garza-Perez said it’s important to participate in the census regardless of one’s immigration status, which the Census Bureau is not interested in anyway.

“If you’re living here and your children go to our schools they need to be counted, because the school deserves to get funding for the students that they’re actually teaching,” she said.