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As Judge Considers Challenge To Early Census Deadline, Arkansas Officials Consider Impact

Arkansas could lose billions of dollars in future federal funding because of a new 2020 census deadline. On Thursday, a federal judge extended a temporary restraining order that was to expire that day to Sept. 24 because the government had not produced all documents requested by the court.

On Aug. 3, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced the deadline for states to accept responses is now Sept. 30, a full month earlier than the original deadline.

Brad Cameron, communications chair for Arkansas Counts, says this new deadline will have an impact statewide, especially for disadvantaged communities.

“Literally overnight we went from a 90-day countdown to give out the count for the 2020 census to just under 60,” Cameron said. “Why that’s extraordinarily important to us is because this is going to most adversely affect our hard-to-count populations.”

He said those include children under five, the elderly, homeless, communities of color and rural residents throughout the state.

On Sept. 5, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh issued the temporary restraining order against the Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the agency. The order was put into place to stop efforts to wind down the 2020 Census. The original end date was Oct. 31.

Although this would buy Arkansas more time to accept responses, Cameron said he’s still uncertain what this means for door-knocking activities because of COVID-19. He’s also unsure if he can “really, really rely on that extended deadline.”

Margaret Powell, director of external affairs for the City of North Little Rock, said the city’s self-responding rate could contribute it receiving less money for programs and services.

“North Little Rock is at 61.4% self-responding, and that leaves us almost with 40% who have not responded,” Powell said. “That’s not good enough.”

Many cities in Arkansas are using various approaches to advertise for citizens to complete the census. Some of those methods have include using social media, handing out flyers and setting up information tables outside of shopping centers.

Powell is taking a different approach by creating a contest for those that have completed their census in North Little Rock. She said $1,000 will be given to a resident who makes a video after completing their census. The winner must use the hashtag #CountMeInNLR! and upload their videos to Facebook. The deadline is Sept. 30.

Robert Price, manager of the 2020 Census effort in Jacksonville, said the city is in need of programs that a good census response can help fund, like healthcare, education, special education and housing.

For some kids, he says school meals are the only meals they receive. Price said a good census count would contribute to funding such services for schools in Jacksonville.

“So we feed every kid that needs it for breakfast and lunch, and that money is completely determined — the amount of money that our school system gets is completely determined by a census count,” Price said.

To complete the census, citizens can go to my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020.

Alexandria Brown is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News. She was previously a Douthit scholar who interned for KUAR News. Alexandria will graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2022 in hopes of being a multimedia reporter.
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