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US Census Bureau Won’t Commit To Finishing Data Processing This Year

A screenshot from an explainer video on the U.S. Census website.
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It’s been a week since the 2020 Census officially stopped collecting responses. The final deadline for the count was moved up to Oct. 16 after the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Trump Administration permission to truncate the decennial count half a month sooner than had been planned.

Now, the government is processing the millions of responses it received. The law says the U.S. Census Bureau must have this data crunched and delivered to the president by December 31, 2020.

Over the course of a court battle between the U.S. Census Bureau and several plaintiffs -- which include the city and county of Los Angeles -- federal officials have emphasized the importance of meeting that date.

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But on a press call today, senior Census Bureau officials walked back their commitment to that deadline.

“We did not say we were going to be able to meet the December 31st deadline,” Associate Director Al Fontenot said. “That provides us with the flexibility if we encounter unexpected challenges.”

At this point, data processing is expected to take two and a half months -- significantly less than the five months the Bureau had allotted prior to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The city and county of Los Angeles have pushed in court to extend the timeline for processing into next year.

Fontenot acknowledged that compressing the time for going over the numbers comes with some risks.

“It assumes a reasonably smooth sequence of processing events will occur,” Fontenot said. “If they are not reasonably smooth, they will require us to take additional time.”

Senior officials explained Wednesday that some workarounds were used to reach the "99.9%" completion rate that the Census Bureau has touted since last week.

However his year, according to numbers released by the bureau, more than a third of non-responsive U.S. households were counted using shortcuts -- compared to about a quarter of non-responsive households in 2010.

These accepted shortcuts include asking a neighbor to respond for a non-responsive hourshold, or estimating how many people live in a home through government records, like tax filings or post office data.

The Census Bureau has not released census results for individual tracts, so it’s unclear if some L.A. neighborhoods were counted by proxy more than others.

Los Angeles County is considered among the hardest-to-count regions in the United States.

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What's at stake for Southern California in the 2020 Census? Billions of dollars in federal funding for services like health care, public education, even disaster planning. Political representation in Sacramento and D.C. A census undercount could cut critical resources in L.A. County, home to the largest hard-to-count population in the nation.