The same week COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, most households across the United States started receiving letters from the U.S. Census Bureau inviting them to self-respond to the 2020 Census. Self-response is still ongoing and can often be done in the comfort of one’s own home.
Amidst this COVID-19 pandemic, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) would like to highlight how crucial census data is for emergency preparedness and response, provide some updates to the 2020 Census timeline and encourage all U.S. households to self-respond during this time.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights recently stated, Census data “helps identify where people who are vulnerable due to advanced age live so officials can implement key prevention efforts.” Additionally, “many of the resources people across the country are relying on in the wake of coronavirus due to illness, job loss, or ongoing need are directed by census data.”
Responses from the 2020 Census will also help us understand who we are as a nation and shape America’s future for the next 10 years. Agencies and governments at all levels will rely on 2020 Census data to inform funding for critical public services and programs, to ensure fair political representation, and to guide the decisions communities make every day.
As the U.S. adapts to the many challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brings, households across the country can still be counted in the 2020 Census and self-respond. As of March 20, 2020, more than 18.6 million households had already self-responded to the 2020 Census and households can continue to do so online, by phone or by mail even as the Census Bureau is “taking steps 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” by updating their 2020 Census field operations.
During the week of March 16, 2020, the Census Bureau announced that 2020 Census field operations will be suspended for two weeks until April 1, 2020. Impacted operations include:
- The update/leave operation (began on March 16), which is the hand-delivery of census packets to about 6.6 million primarily rural households plus most (not all) American Indian reservations, will be stopped and delayed until April 1 at the earliest.
- Service-based Enumeration, which is one of the operations counting people experiencing homelessness, will be delayed until late April/ early May.
- The Census Bureau is delaying the start of its Mobile Questionnaire Assistance program. This program was planned to start on March 30, but because of COVID-19 the Census Bureau now plans to offer this assistance fully across the country on April 13.
- As a result of COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau is now working with Group Quarters (GQ) administrators to ensure they count their residents. GQ facilities include skilled nursing facilities, group homes, residential treatment centers, college/university student housing, prisons, military barracks, shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and vocational training facilities. The Census Bureau is currently contacting all GQ administrators that have requested an in-person visit and asking them to consider an eResponse or offering to drop off and later pick up paper forms to minimize in-person contact with census staff. Also, the Census Bureau is working with service providers at emergency and transitional shelters, soup kitchens and regularly scheduled mobile food vans to adapt plans to count the populations they serve. The Arc has a factsheet entitled How Are Group Homes Being Counted in the Census? that can provide more answers about how group homes are being counted in the 2020 Census.
During this pause in field operations, the Census Bureau has said that they will continue to evaluate all 2020 Census operations and will adjust accordingly if any additional pauses are found to be necessary because of COVID-19. This is the current working timeline:
- Sometime between March 12–20 most households will have received an invitation, in the form of a letter, to self-respond online or by phone to the 2020 Census. (Some households will also have received paper questionnaires to allow for self-response by mail during this time period as well.)
- Please note: If you prefer to respond by mail but do not receive a questionnaire in your first mailing from the U.S. Census Bureau, you can wait for the fourth mailing, in mid-April 2020, which will include a paper questionnaire to respond by mail.
- If your household has not self-responded following the initial letter from the Census Bureau you will receive a reminder letter in the mail from the Census Bureau sometime between March 16–24.
- Any households who have not responded following the two initial letters from the Census Bureau will receive a reminder postcard sometime between March 26–April 3.
- If your household has not self-responded by April 3 they will receive an additional reminder letter along with a paper questionnaire in case your household wishes to respond by mail from the Census Bureau sometime between April 8–16.
- Households will receive one final reminder postcard from the Census Bureau sometime between April 20–27 inviting them to self-respond to the 2020 Census if the household has not responded by April 16.
- However, as a result of COVID-19 the deadline for self-response online, by phone or by returning the paper questionnaire has been extended to August 14 (from July 31).
- In late May, census takers will begin visiting households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census to help complete the count. However, the Census Bureau is monitoring the evolving COVID-19 outbreak, and have stated that they will adjust census taker and survey operations as necessary in order to follow the guidance of federal, state and local health authorities.
The Census Bureau has ensured people that this year’s census self-response options will be accessible for everyone. As of March 20, the Census Bureau has released three factsheets addressing the accessibility of the 2020 Census including Fact Sheet on Accessibility of the 2020 Census, The 2020 Census is Accessible for Everyone and 2020 Census 508 Frequently Asked Questions.
- Online. The 2020 Census online self-response website will meet the latest web accessibility guidelines, so you should be able to navigate through census materials online without a mouse and use assistive technology such as a screen reader. A video guide in American Sign Language is available to help you complete the census online.
- By Phone. Census Questionnaire Assistance phone lines are now available in English and 12 additional languages if you want to self-respond by phone or have any questions related to the census. You can also complete the census in English by calling 844-467-2020 to use TDD (Telephone Display Device).
- By Mail. Braille and large print guides will be available to assist you with completing the paper questionnaire. A braille BRF file (a digital Braille file that can be read using a refreshable Braille display that is connected to a computer or smartphone, or with a Braille notetaker that is connected to the Internet.) and large-print English language guides, as well as non-English language guides, are now available on the bureau’s website.
Prior to COVID-19, the Census Bureau had planned to distribute hard-copies of the braille language guide at partner events, conferences, and meetings. However, the Census Bureau is now working on changing their hard-copy braille language guide distribution plan, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. NDRN is working closely with the Census Bureau on an updated distribution plan for hard-copies of the braille language guide and will update stakeholders as more information becomes available.
Please note: The Braille and large-print language guides are not the actual questionnaires. Individuals are still expected to complete the census online, by phone or by completing the “standard” questionnaire if they want to respond to the census by mail. These guides are similar to “sample ballots.”