Although a majority in Hall County have already completed the 2020 Census, residents now have some extra time to respond, although just how much time is now in question.
A federal judge last week extended the deadline through the end of October. But a tweet Monday from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross says the 2020 census will end Oct. 5.
The preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in California late Thursday, Sept. 24, allows the census to continue for an extra month. It had been set to finish Sept. 30, but Koh said the shorter schedule would have likely produced inaccurate results.
But Ross’ tweet said the ability for people to self-respond to the census questionnaire and the door-knocking phase when census takers go to homes that haven't yet responded are targeted to end Oct. 5.
The announcement came as a virtual hearing was being held in San Jose, California, as a follow-up to Koh's preliminary injunction. The injunction issued last week suspended the Census Bureau's deadline for ending the head count on Sept. 30, which automatically reverted back to an older Census Bureau plan in which the timeline for ending field operations was Oct. 31.
The new Oct. 5 deadline doesn't necessarily violate the judge's order because the injunction just suspended the Sept. 30 deadline for field operations, as well as a Dec. 31 deadline the Census Bureau has for turning in figures used for determining how many congressional seats each state gets in a process known as apportionment.
The once-a-decade head count of U.S. residents also collects demographic information such as race and age, and determines federal funding for programs such as school lunches, highway construction, education, hospitals and fire departments, according to the census website.
Koh asked federal government attorneys during Monday's hearing to provide documents on how the new decision to end the head count on Oct. 5 was made. When a federal government lawyer suggested that the decision-making was a moving target without any records, the judge asked, "A one sentence tweet? Are you saying that is enough reason to establish decision-making? A one sentence tweet?"
Whenever it ends, local officials are urging anyone who hasn’t responded to do so.
“Not filling out the census deprives taxpayers and citizens access to funding for health, funding for transportation projects and other things. Also, it determines our congressional numbers in Washington,” State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said. “It’s important that we have full representation.”
State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, said he has also been encouraging community members to complete the census.
“If we pass the census with the numbers that we should have, we look at another congressional seat for Georgia, which is big,” Dunahoo said. “We look at millions of dollars that we’d lose in federal money.”
And State Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, said the community seems to have more awareness of the census than it did 10 years ago, with many people telling him they heard about it online.
“The majority of people I’m speaking with have been contacted or had multiple touchpoints about filling out that census,” Dubnik said.
If someone has not completed the form by phone, email or online, census workers follow up with a home visit. According to the census website, about 90% of the “nonresponse follow-up” work had been completed for the Gainesville area office as of Sept. 26. That area office covers several North Georgia counties, including Hall, Forsyth and Dawson, and stretches west to the Alabama state line.
Georgia’s response rate was 95.5% as of Sept. 27, with 62.1% of households responding on their own and 33.4% being counted in a follow-up from a census taker. West Virginia had the highest response rate, at 99.9%, with several states at rates above 99%. Georgia had the sixth-lowest response rate in the country.
Hall County’s self-response rate is 65.3%, according to the census website.
Gina Harbin Wright, executive director of the state’s legislative and congressional reapportionment office, said she predicts Georgia will likely keep its 14 congressional districts, although final census counts will determine the districts.
“Once detailed census data is provided to the states, those numbers are applied to the current district maps to see where the state has grown and where there has been a loss of population or slower paced growth,” Wright said in an email. “My staff works with the members and leadership of the Georgia General Assembly to determine how best to adjust the boundary lines of the districts so that each Congressional district has the same number of people in it. There may be a deviation of plus or minus a single person, but each one is virtually the same in population size.”
New district maps next year for Georgia’s congressional, state Senate and state House districts would take effect in 2022, Wright said.
The 2020 Census can be completed online at 2020census.gov. People can also call 844-330-2020 to complete it by phone, and to complete it in Spanish, they can call 844-468-2020. To complete the census by mail, people can fill out the form sent to their household earlier this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.