Although Maryland is among the top 10 states for residents responding to the U.S Census, a bipartisan group of the state’ political leaders believe it is critical to reach the remaining population in the next four weeks, before the Sept. 30 census reporting deadline.
“If we have an undercount, we don’t get that fair share of resources that are so desperately needed in our community,” U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) said during a virtual census forum hosted by the group AARP Maryland Friday.
Census data is collected every 10 years to redraw legislative and congressional districts, as well as to ensure fair allocation of federal funds to states.
For every person not counted, Maryland loses $1,821 each year in federal funding, or $18,210 over the next 10 years until the 2030 census takes place.
Over $1.5 trillion is expected to be divided among the states over the next 10 years, based on this year’s census count, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said during the forum.
School districts use the census data to decide how many teachers and classrooms they need. Hospitals rely on the data to order the correct amount of hospital beds and vaccines. States use it for life-saving programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The financial losses that may come from underreported census numbers are significant.
Just as important, census data also affects the amount of seats in Congress each state gets and how legislative districts are drawn. If the reported population number is too low, Maryland may lose a congressional seat.
“Many of those districts [in congressional maps] have strange shapes to them, so we want to make sure that they’re more reasonable and reflect the content of the community,” Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) said during the forum.
The response rate varies across Maryland jurisdictions. Baltimore City, which Cardin says “desperately needs those housing and health care dollars,” has one of the lowest response rates in the state, at 54.2%, while Carroll and Howard counties are at 80%.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, census counting was supposed to end by late July. In April, the U.S. Census Bureau announced a four-month deadline extension to Oct. 31 and asked Congress to approve this date. The House approved it as a part of its coronavirus relief package, but the Republican-dominated Senate has not.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that it will end census counting one month earlier than the bureau originally proposed, on Sept. 30. Now census collectors have just four weeks to reach the hardest-to-count communities — namely those with high amounts of immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities.
Maryland congressional leaders said Congress has the ability to extend the deadline, but the chances look slim given the impasse between the House and Senate.
“This president has been trying to undermine the Census since before it began, and even after losing a case before the Supreme Court in which he sought to sabotage it with an illegal question on citizenship status, he continues to undercut efforts to ensure everyone is counted,” Hoyer said in a Aug. 4 statement.
Hoyer accused Trump of attempting to undermining the confidence of those participating in the census and diminishing the amount of resources from poor communities of color that need it the most.
Individual census data is 100% confidential, Cardin said. It cannot be used by property owner or immigration officers, and there are criminal sanctions for anyone who violates that confidentiality.
“The Constitution is very, very clear: count every human being who is living in the United States, it’s not about citizenship…it’s about counting every person who is in the United States,” Hoyer said during the forum.
Maryland has a self-response rate of 69%, which is the 9th highest in the nation. In-person collectors, also known as enumerators, have reached 15.7% of Marylanders, making the total state response rate 84.7% as of Thursday, said Robert S. McCord, secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning.
“We got 15% more to go, we are not going to stop until we get to Sept. 30,” he said. “It’s not just about today, it’s about 10 years’ worth of tomorrows.”
“We need to be at 100%,” Hoyer said.