The COVID-19 pandemic is delaying some New Mexicans’ ability to fill out the 2020 census as nearly 1 in 5 residences has not yet been invited to respond.

Across the state, 17.8 percent of households don’t have standard mailing addresses compared to 5 percent across the country. Because the Census Bureau doesn’t deliver to P.O. boxes, census invitations for these nonstandard addresses are hand-delivered to residences by enumerators.

Earlier this month, the Census Bureau suspended door-to-door operations until June. In some parts of rural New Mexico, nearly entire counties must wait until then to be invited to participate in the census.

“We tried to beg and plead with the Census Bureau to deliver invitations to P.O. boxes,” Rio Arriba County Special Projects Coordinator Cristina Caltagirone said. “But every form has to be tied to a physical address.”

At 99.6 percent, Mora County has the highest rate of households with a nonstandard address followed by Catron County at 98.5 percent, Rio Arriba County at 97.5 percent, Taos County at 79.1 percent and Harding County at 78 percent.

By Thursday afternoon, 51.8 percent of households across the country had responded to the census compared to 41 percent in New Mexico. State demographer Robert Rhatigan said that gap is misleading because of the high percentage of households yet to receive an invitation.

“When nearly 18 percent of our households haven’t been invited, of course we’re behind the national average,’ Rhatigan said. “There is a direct relationship between low response rates and areas that should have, but weren’t able to, receive a hand-delivered packet.”

While residents can complete the census online without receiving an invitation by describing the location of their residence, Rhatigan said it’s best to wait for a hand-delivered packet with 12-digit identification number, which enumerators tie to the exact coordinates of the residence.

According to the Census Bureau, packets should be hand-delivered by July 9. The state estimates that each uncounted resident results in a loss of $3,700 per year.

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