The U.S. Census Bureau has moved up the deadline to respond to the 2020 Census from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30, raising fears of an undercount in Texas.

“While I’m disappointed the Census is ending early, I am hopeful that Terrell residents who have yet to respond will be counted in the closing days,” said Ray Dunlap, president of the Terrell Economic Development Corp. and a member of a Kaufman County Census taskforce. “It is important to our community that we get an accurate count.”

According to the Census Bureau, Terrell had a Census response rate of 59.8% as of Aug. 4. Kaufman’s rate was 58.6%, and Forney came in at 67.4%. Kaufman County as a whole had a response rate of 64.4%, which is the 14th best in Texas. Randall County ranked No. 1 with a rate of 66.2%, and Edwards County was the worst at 14.4%.

The Texas response rate was the 39th best in the nation. Minnesota (72.3%) was ranked No. 1 and Alaska (49.6%) had the lowest response rate of the states. Overall, the nation has a response rate of 63.1%, according to the Census Bureau.

The announcement comes as the Census count is moving into a new phase whereby Census workers have started door-to-door visits with households that have not filled out the Census online, by phone or by mail.

“It seems like not only are they cutting back the time they’re giving themselves to do this nonresponse follow up, but they’re also allocating the least amount of time in the hardest-to-count places in the state,” Lila Valencia, a senior demographer at the Texas Demographic Center, told the Texas Tribune.

“We’re in the middle of this pandemic where people are concerned about their health and safety, but also concerned about their future and food insecurity and things of that nature,” Valencia told the Texas Tribune. “That is a phenomena that many of us are experiencing at different levels, but some in our state are experiencing all of it. It’s a cumulative effect, and for them to even think of the Census, it’s just not at their top of mind and understandably so.”

In May, Kaufman County formed a committee tasked with trying to ensure a robust Census count.

In 2010, significant undercounts occurred in areas across Texas, including rural counties, such as Kaufman. This year, the state could be at risk for an even larger undercount since 25 percent of the state’s population lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods where response rates have been relatively low, according to information by the committee.

Billions of federal dollars are literally at stake in this year’s Census.

Full Census participation is crucial to ensure equitable funding for quality of life issues such as transportation, health insurance, hospitals, childcare, food assistance, education and other programs. Additionally, the Census count determines the number of representatives Texas has in Congress as well as the number of electoral votes the state has in presidential elections. Industries and companies review Census data on population and demographics when considering where to locate and expand.

In April, Census officials eyed moving the Census deadline back to ensure a more complete and accurate county. However, on Aug. 3, Census Director Steven Dillingham said the bureau planned to hire more employees to accelerate pace of data collection and avoid a delay in reporting counts for seats in Congress and the distribution of redistricting data.

“The Census Bureau’s new plan reflects our continued commitment to conduct a complete count, provide accurate apportionment data, and protect the health and safety of the public and our workforce,” Dillingham said in a statement.

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