Yes, New Mexicans can deal with a crisis and take care of business as usual. Let’s prove it by improving our U.S. census response before time runs out.
Currently, New Mexico is near the bottom of states in its response to the 2020 census. Only about a third of households have taken the time to answer questions; the national self-response rate is closer to half of all households.
This opportunity to be counted only comes once every decade, and it is crucial. Congressional seats are distributed on the basis of population. Some states lose representation, and others gain it. Federal dollars are handed out using census figures, with some $1.5 trillion in federal spending hanging in the balance. We can’t afford such low participation.
The census is mandated to occur every 10 years in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Every person counted brings some $3,700 in federal funding to New Mexico communities. Undercounting means those dollars are lost.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, census takers can’t remind people by knocking on doors although they can use traditional media outlets — and should. More personal outreach is considered essential in hard-to-count communities, whether rural New Mexico, tribal reservations or immigrant populations.
People worried about illness or losing a job might forget to answer the census — a lot is going on right now. However, more people answering the census means New Mexico won’t lose out on the federal aid it will need to recover from what is shaping up as an economic catastrophe.
The good news is that a deadline to respond to the census has been extended from July 31 to Aug. 31. The self-response period began on March 12. Residents can respond online at 2020census.gov, over the phone at 844-330-2020 or by mail.
Santa Fe County’s response rate was around 21.7 percent last week, well below the state average. Other Northern New Mexico counties were even lower, with only about 10 percent of households in Taos County and 5 percent in Rio Arriba County responding.
It’s time for county and state census response teams to get creative. Outreach can’t be in person, but put up signs on the doors of essential businesses. Heck, put up signs at drive-up testing sites for the coronavirus, where people are sitting in cars. Place signs in parks or along trails where people still are getting out. Remember other traditional methods — newspaper, radio and television advertisements. Social media works in urban areas but doesn’t always reach traditional communities or rural parts of the state. Don’t neglect tried and true approaches.
And keep the need to fill out the census before the public. The governor can mention the census during her highly watched coronavirus updates. While people are waiting on the phone for information about unemployment benefits, stick in a census reminder during the messages on hold. Place signs at in parking lots or areas with Wi-Fi hot spots, where people are driving and parking to use the internet. We don’t want New Mexicans not to be counted.
New Mexico can do better. And we must.