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As Supreme Court decides citizenship case, D.C. prepares for 2020 U.S. census

Local officials welcome news of Over $3 billion in federally funded programs hinges on accurate census numbers


Update, June 27: The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the addition of a highly debated citizenship question to the U.S. census in a pivotal decision Thursday, reports the New York Times. Though the ruling leaves open the possibility that the question could be included on census forms in the future, D.C.’s elected leaders hailed the news as a positive development.

“For now, this latest attempt to intimidate our immigrant neighbors is off the table, but the work to end the fear and distrust that the Trump Administration is creating in our immigrant communities continues,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement. “With today’s ruling, we can focus our local 2020 Census efforts on getting a fair and accurate count that represents our entire city.” Last month, Bowser rolled out a campaign to improve census participation.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine also commented on the decision, writing on Twitter that the citizenship question “could have deterred participation, depriving the District of critical resources.” The U.S. government uses census data to determine local funding for programs.

In a statement, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has proposed a congressional bill to prevent the U.S. Census Bureau from asking about “citizenship, nationality, or immigration status on the decennial census,” argued the citizenship question would harm communities.

“A citizenship question, far from enhancing civil rights enforcement, would drive down responses, especially from minority communities,” she said. “If anything, based on our hearings on [such a] question, this question seems calculated to drive down responses.”

This post has been updated with comment from Norton.

Original post, May 21:

As the federal government sorts out controversial plans to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census next year, the District government is taking steps to make sure every resident is counted, regardless of immigration status. Mayor Muriel Bowser last Thursday launched the “Complete Count” campaign in advance of the 2020 census—scheduled to take place April 1.

The campaign involves a dedicated website and literature about the census in addition to an official committee made up of District agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private sector groups. The committee will help educate residents about how the government is allowed to use information it amasses via the census, including “the fact that it is illegal for any of the information to be shared with law enforcement agencies,” Bowser’s office noted in a release.

In a statement, the mayor said the District is committed to counting all of its residents, “despite efforts by the federal government [that] seek to intimidate our most vulnerable communities.” Her administration included $2.5 million in her fiscal year 2020 budget proposal to fund local census efforts, and lawmakers are set to give final approval to the budget, which begins October 1, 2019, next Tuesday. Census jobs are also currently open.

2020 will be the first time census questions may be completed online, although people will be able to provide their information over the phone or request paper questionnaires. Next March, postcards with instructions on how to do the online questionnaire will be sent out.

The District annually receives more than $3 billion in federal funding for important social programs that depend on accurate census counts, including low-income housing vouchers, food stamps, and children’s health insurance. D.C. has more than 700,000 residents today.