Several Long Island officials view the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the Trump administration to shut down the 2020 census count two weeks early as another volley in a political battle that has entangled the once-a-decade count of the nation's population like never before and endangers its accuracy.
The court's order, which did not list its reasoning, stops the count, which local governments and civil rights groups fought in court to have continued. They said the census bureau's expedited schedule would make it difficult to tally traditionally "hard-to-count" minority communities.
The bureau announced late Tuesday that anyone who has not yet responded to the census has until this Thursday to do so via Internet, phone or mail. The paper questionnaire must be postmarked by Thursday, the bureau said. People may respond online at my2020census.gov or call 1-844-330-2020.
"The Supreme Court is letting the Trump Administration end the Census early in a purely political effort to disenfranchise minority communities," U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said in a statement. "They are trying to rig the system right in plain view. This is what is at stake on the Supreme Court and why the upcoming election is so important."
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement: "The Court’s decision is disappointing, but Nassau has been running a full-court press to get everyone counted with the expectation that something like this could happen."
Vanessa Baird-Streeter, deputy county executive for Suffolk County, urged community leaders to still encourage residents to complete the census by Thursday and said in a statement: "This continued uncertainty is wreaking havoc on the efforts that we have all been engaged in to ensure an accurate count for our communities. "
The U.S. Census Bureau had announced in April that, because the coronavirus pandemic delayed its field work, it would extend its door-knocking effort until Oct. 31. But the Trump administration switched course and said the count would end Sept. 30, leading to a legal battle.
The government said the only way they could meet the Dec. 31 deadline to provide the census count to the president was to shut down the field work now.
A federal judge ordered the bureau to adhere to its Oct. 31 date. But the Supreme Court overrode that.
The decennial count of the nation's population, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, affects congressional apportionment, state legislative redistricting and the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion annually in federal funds to states and municipalities for scores of programs.
Jeffrey Wice, an adjunct professor and senior fellow at the New York Law School who has served as redistricting counsel to legislative leaders in New York after previous censuses, said the accuracy of the census is on the line.
"Career officials at the Census Bureau indicated in court papers they could not get an accurate count completed by December 31," said Wice of Long Beach. "My sense is the career professionals are being told not what they can do, but told what they must do. This sets up a census with questionable data and incomplete data."
The Census Bureau says it has counted 99.9% of the nation, but outside experts have said that does not address the accuracy of the data.
Rebecca Sanin, president and chief executive of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, which has coordinated census outreach efforts in both counties said: "The shifting deadlines and continued assault on the effort to achieve an accurate count has been unconscionable. I’m proud of Long Island for working so hard for the past year-and-a-half and in many cases exceeding 2010 numbers despite what has been assault after assault." She noted the count "stands for 10 years" and an inaccurate count, she said, "translates into inaccurate funding and inaccurate representation."