August 19, 2020

Merkley, Wyden, Colleagues Press for Accurate 2020 Census Count for Native Communities

A thorough count is essential for just and fair allocation of federal resources

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with 17 of their Senate colleagues, are urging the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Census Bureau to honor their previously announced 2020 census completion date to ensure an accurate count for Indian Country and the Native Hawaiian community.

On April 13, 2020, the Commerce Department and Census Bureau announced a modified timeline for 2020 census operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which extended the deadline for field data collection to October 31, 2020. On August 3, the Bureau reneged on its April 13 announcement and indicated instead that it will cease all collection by September 30, 2020.

Census response rates have been and remain low in tribal communities in part because tribal governments have taken necessary measures to keep their communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, as tribal communities have experienced some of the highest mortality rates in the nation from the virus. The Bureau’s newly accelerated timeline threatens to result in another severe undercount of American Indians, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.

“American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian leaders have spent months coordinating with the Census Bureau to prepare their communities for the 2020 count and to meet the Bureau’s October 31st deadline. Their herculean efforts to get out the count even during a pandemic should not be discounted or cut short,” the senators wrote. “Failure to get a complete and accurate count of these community populations will have long term and devastating impacts – from redistricting data, to federal funding, to congressional representation. A fair and accurate census is critical to Native communities’ continued and future prosperity.”

“We strongly urge you to honor the previously announced 2020 census completion date of October 31, 2020, and to continue operations under the modified timeline as detailed in the Bureau’s April 13th announcement,” the senators continued. “We look forward to working with you to uphold the federal government’s constitutional obligation to ensure a fair and accurate count for Indian Country and all Native populations within the United States.”

Merkley and Wyden were joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Angus King (I-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).