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New Census Deadline Concerns Iowa Latino Groups

A person carries a bag that says U.S. Census Bureau in front of a house.
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Census takers walking door-to-door now have to stop working by Sept. 30 instead of previously planned Oct. 31. The one month change has concerned minority communities who don't regularly have access to technology for self responses.

The U.S. Census will stop surveying door-to-door on Sept. 30 instead of the previously planned Oct. 31. The largest minority group in Iowa is concerned this change will affect the count of their community.

The Des Moines League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was not pleased when members found out census takers would stop gathering data at an earlier date than originally planned. The group plans to meet with census supervisors to ensure an accurate count of the Latino population in Iowa.

Joe Henry, president of the Des Moines LULAC chapter and LULAC Iowa political director, said in Latino communities, it is especially important to go door to door because access to technology is often limited and self-reporting is not reliable.

“It's our fear that we're not going to be counted," Henry said, "and that our numbers will appear lower, falsely lower, than what the reality is."

He also said he fears the tighter timeline will not be long enough to gather all the data, which is why LULAC encourages available Latino people to quickly apply for last-minute census-taker jobs. The Census Bureau filled most jobs in April, but people may still apply on a temporary, part-time basis.

That's exactly what Himar Hernandez, the founder and president of LULAC Ottumwa, did. He said as more people bring attention to the census, the response rate will be higher.

Hernandez had originally planned on promoting census response at a festival in September, but he realized that might be too late.

"We were going to make it a big deal at our festival just because we thought that they were going to be around a bit longer," Hernandez said. "But now that we have a month less to work on this, it's become a more central focus for us."

The Ottumwa chapter has teamed up with Iowa State University Extension, where Hernandez works in community and economic development, to create fliers and other outreach methods in multiple languages promoting census involvement.

Henry said door-to-door is sometimes the only way to ensure census response, though.

"If you're not going door to door, it's going to be hard for the census people to really do this unless they have an aggressive approach with a large number of people who will go into these neighborhoods," Henry said. "Relying on phone numbers and email addresses (is) not going to work. In our community, we have a very working class community and phone numbers change sometimes, phone numbers don't exist, the internet doesn't exist. So you really do have to do it the old fashioned way."

According to the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law, Latino households across the nation are at danger of being under-counted in the 2020 census. "Today, there are 56.5 million Hispanics living in the United State, and roughly one in three live in hard-to-count census tracts," the Center has found.

Hernandez, of Ottumwa LULAC, said an inaccurate count would negatively affect not only his community, but Hispanic communities across Iowa.

"The minority community is part of the community, right? And so the funding comes with census numbers. And if we show less numbers than what we have, then that's a higher burden on local school districts and local municipalities to have to come up with resources to come up with more people than what the government can help fund," Hernandez said.

In Storm Lake, where the population is majority Hispanic, census committee members are striving for even more outreach as well. Maria Ramos, the co-chair of the Storm Lake Census Committee, said COVID-19 complicated outreach to begin with. Now that the deadline is closer for door-to-door census takers, the committee will have to be even more creative.

"It has been a challenge and now with cutting it short, it will definitely be challenging trying to figure out ways to reach out and target as many people as we can," Ramos said.

Due to the past politics regarding the census, such as the citizenship question debate, Ramos said some people in her community were hesitant to respond to the census.

As of right now, Ramos said the Storm Lake Census Committee is reaching out to the Census Bureau to find out if the Sept. 30 deadline is just for door-to-door surveyors or if it is for all census responses, including online.

Iowa has had a 68.8 percent self-response rate according to the Census Bureau.