The decennial census is a vital snapshot of our nation. Mandated by the Constitution, the nation gets one chance every 10 years to enumerate its population. The data is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, redraw district boundaries, as well as to allocate billions of dollars under federal programs.
An accurate and complete census is especially critical for Montanans, as we teeter on the cusp of getting a second seat in the U.S. House. The census will influence policies and programs for the next decade.
The census has already been delayed by the initial outbreak of the coronavirus; however, as the nation sees record numbers of new infections it is now time to face the ineluctable conclusion that the census must be postponed. Far from being gone by Easter (remember?) it is now apparent that COVID-19, and the necessary steps to mitigate its spread (social distancing, masks, limiting group size, isolating vulnerable populations), will be with us at least through this year.
For many people, completing the census was a matter of spending a few minutes on the computer answering a few simple questions. For others, those in group homes, nursing homes, dorms and halfway houses, or other residences managed by third parties, this may not be an option. These residents are then faced with the Sophie’s Choice of either not being counted, or exposing either themselves or the census employee to the potential for infection. While risks can be mitigated, they cannot be eliminated.
Given the importance of an accurate and complete enumeration of a traditionally undercounted population as well as public safety and the lack of urgency that the census be completed immediately, the prudent course of action is to postpone the census until the COVID-19 pandemic is abated.
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