New Mexico faces many hurdles this ten-year cycle when it comes to completing the 2020 Census. On an average decade, 20 percent of its residents aren’t counted due to the rural layout of the state. The coronavirus pandemic doubles the difficulties facing the state. New Mexico and Alaska have the most undercounted communities in the United States due to their small population which is spread out over a huge land mass. Response rates are little to none in more remote areas. The consequences of this decade’s count are immense if these communities aren’t reached. Each decade the census forms the path for New Mexico’s political representation and determines allocation of public funding. It also sets the state Electoral College votes and maps local, state, and federal legislative district lines.
The Census, mandated by the Constitution, counts all people living in the United States every ten years. The coronavirus has paused all hand-delivered census forms, which in the past, has been the primary way to reach out and include rural areas. According to Associated Press, in Los Alamos, Bernalillo and Chaves counties hand-delivery isn’t a major problem. In those counties the 45 percent response rates are at or above the national response.
Rural area response rates, particularly in minority neighborhoods and other hard-to-count communities, are difficult to raise without direct contact with each participant. In New Mexico these include Catron, Mora and Rio Arriba counties, where participation is in the single digits. Southern Valencia and northern Socorro counties are reportedly the hardest to count and most grossly under-counted sections in the entire U.S. Reaching these rural communities is a huge hurdle for counting teams.
There are cultural barriers in some Native American communities that must be addressed in any state census count. Native tribes are the most undercounted group on the U.S. census. There are many reasons for this disparity. Some of the reasons stem from the federal governments’ relationship and treatment of Native communities. According to an audit done by the U.S. Census Bureau, less than one percent of the households on the Navajo Nation responded to the 2010 Census.
Our state receives more than $7.8 billion dollars per year from the federal government. Each New Mexican not counted represents a loss of $3745.00 per person every year for the next ten years in funding for the state. This translates into a loss in state funding of approximately $37,500 each decade for every person not counted. The overall count will also determine how many representatives New Mexico has in Congress and maximizes statewide participation in the redistricting process. The census count sets boundaries for voting and school districts and the assignment of billions of dollars in funding for many federal and state programs, including health (i.e. Medicaid), transportation, housing and more. “This is how we build schools, create a healthcare system,” said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. “This is how we make sure that we get the infrastructure to keep our roads maintained and safe.”
The HEROES ACT, passed by the House on May 15, would include $400 million in additional appropriations to deal with the impact of the pandemic on the Census. The bill also would require monthly operational updates and gives the Census Bureau a 120-day deadline extension to finish the household count. Democrats allege past counts missed millions of household members, including minorities, immigrants, renters, the elderly and young children. The bill now faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
The U.S. Census Bureau, in coordination with federal, state and local health officials, started a phased re-start of 2020 Census field operations this week in New Mexico. The Census must be completed by October 31. Dropping off of Census packets is contactless and follows the federal health and safety guidelines. Census field staff have been trained to observe all social distancing protocols, and will wear government-provided personal protective equipment for their safety and the safety of the public. The hand-delivered census packets will include the census questionnaire, as well as online instructions and an ID for online response. Forms can be filled out online at my2020census.gov, through the mail, or by phone (1-844-330-2020 for English; 1-844-468-2020 for Spanish).