Census Says Paper Forms Must Be Postmarked By Sept. 30 After Oct. 7, the Census Bureau will stop accepting paper 2020 census forms postmarked by Sept. 30, NPR has learned. Some worry mail delays could harm the accuracy of census data about rural areas.
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Mail Delays Could Hurt The Census, Too

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Mail Delays Could Hurt The Census, Too

Mail Delays Could Hurt The Census, Too

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Another critical piece of this country's democracy that could be affected by Postal Service delays is the 2020 census. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has our story.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Johnnie Mae Adams says she's been waiting for months to get counted for the 2020 census. It's the first primarily online U.S. headcount. But in her hometown of Millen in eastern Georgia, the Internet can be spotty.

JOHNNIE MAE ADAMS: Well, most of the people here are not that - they don't worry about that kind of stuff. Computers and stuff - they don't even do anything on their cellphones other than answer it and talk. No games, no nothing.

WANG: She's seen a census postcard reminding her to participate. But an actual paper questionnaire?

ADAMS: No note, never received it.

WANG: Door knockers from the Census Bureau have not come by yet, either. And in a small rural town where less than a third of households have filled out a form on their own so far, Adams says that's a problem.

ADAMS: Because I understand the county's funding comes according to the census. And everybody needs to be counted.

WANG: The Census Bureau says it's still trying to tally up more than a quarter of homes around the U.S. with less than six weeks left of counting. This weekend, an extra paper form is supposed to start arriving at some homes that haven't participated in the census yet.

REBECCA DEHART: This last mailing could be extraordinarily important to making sure communities are seen and heard by the government.

WANG: Rebecca DeHart is the CEO of Fair Count, an organization that's been trying to boost census participation among communities of color in Georgia, especially in rural areas. DeHart says she's worried about slowdowns in the mail.

DEHART: And what we don't know is if these forms will be delayed, hitting these households, how long these households take to fill them out and then get them back to the Bureau.

WANG: The Census Bureau is under pressure from the Trump administration to deliver the first batch of census results to the president by the end of this year. The bureau tells NPR that it plans to only process paper census forms that are postmarked by September 30 and received by October 7. That leaves a short window of time for those households that prefer a more traditional way of getting counted on their own.

DEHART: People feel comfortable with the paper form. They're able to read it. They're able to see it for themselves.

ARTURO VARGAS: Latinos express a preference for paper because they have more confidence that their information would be received by the Census Bureau rather than just being submitted online.

WANG: That was Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and a longtime census advocate, who says the Postal Service has been top of mind for him.

VARGAS: There's a lot of reasons why I'm worried about our mail service right now. I think what is happening with the census may be an indication of what may happen with the elections.

WANG: Unlike the elections, though, the results of the census come with at least 10 years worth of consequences in how voting districts are redrawn, how many seats in Congress and votes in the Electoral College your city gets and how much of some $1.5 trillion a year in federal tax dollars for Medicare, Medicaid and other public services communities like Millen, Ga., get. Johnnie Mae Adams has not forgotten that.

ADAMS: I mean, because it's important to me for my county, where I was born and raised here.

WANG: That's why Adams recently tried calling one of the toll-free numbers for the Census Bureau's call centers and had to wait and wait.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. New York.

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