WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration wants to delay deadlines for the 2020 census because of the coronavirus outbreak, a move that if approved would push back timetables for releasing data used to draw congressional and legislative districts, the chair of the House oversight committee said Monday.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney said administration officials were requesting all field operations be postponed until June 1 and that the deadline for wrapping up the nation's head count be pushed back until Oct. 31.
Field operations for the 2020 census have been suspended since mid-March and were set to resume this week. The deadline for finishing the head count also had been pushed back from the end of July to mid-August because of the pandemic.
Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement that the administration also is seeking to delay the deadline for delivering state population counts used for apportionment — the process of carving up congressional districts — from the end of this year to the end of next April.
The administration also is seeking to push back the deadline for giving states data for redistricting from next March to next July, the statement added.
Both deadlines are established by federal law and would require congressional approval.
The White House arranged a call on Monday with congressional leaders about the requested changes, but no one from the Census Bureau was on the call. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will carefully examine the request, Maloney said.
“The director of the Census Bureau was not even on today’s call, and the administration has refused for weeks to allow him to brief members of our committee, despite repeated requests," Maloney said. “If the Administration is trying to avoid the perception of politicizing the census, preventing the Census director from briefing the committee and then excluding him from a call organized by the White House are not encouraging moves."
The Census Bureau confirmed the delays were being sought. It said in a statement that the goal of the delays would be to ensure a complete and accurate count.
When field operations start in June, workers will be given personal protective equipment and guidelines for social distancing, the bureau said in a statement.
“In-person activities, including all interaction with the public, enumeration, office work and processing activities, will incorporate the most current guidance to promote the health and safety of staff and the public," the statement said.
The 2020 census started in January in remote villages of Alaska, but most U.S. residents didn't get to start filling out the questionnaire until last month, when the 2020 census website went live and people started getting notifications in the mail that they could respond. About a week later, cities and states around the country started issuing stay-at-home orders because of the virus.
The Census Bureau is hoping a majority of people respond online, by telephone or through the mail. Census takers will be sent out later this year to knock on the doors of homes where residents haven't yet responded.
The 2020 census will help determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets, as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending.