The U.S. Census Bureau has started the process of “contactless” hand-delivery of census forms to rural areas in an effort to reach populations that do not receive mail at their physical addresses.
People in southeastern New Mexico, as well as other regions of the state, should have the forms by June 15.
The U.S. Census Bureau has reopened its offices in Las Cruces and Albuquerque, according to members of the New Mexico Complete Count Commission.
Another office serving the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, in Window Rock, Arizona, has not yet reopened.
But the return of the Las Cruces workers means that they can begin to get forms to those who typically receive mail at post office boxes instead of their homes, which members of a local census committee have said includes quite a number of people in the Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur areas.
“We not only have harder-to-count communities, but nearly 20% of New Mexicans rely on hand-delivery of their census forms,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe) during a Wednesday teleconference, “one of the highest rates in the country.”
Las Cruces census employees will deliver more than 56,000 forms to people’s doorsteps in 15 counties, Udall said.
He said census workers have been trained about COVID-19 safe practices, including wearing gloves and face-coverings and refraining from direct contact with residents.
The March 13 cessation of in-person work by census employees meant that about 20% of census forms that were in the process of being hand-delivered could not be dropped off at people’s homes until now, according to Dennis Johnson, deputy regional director of the Denver regional office of the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Most counties, which means virtually all citizens, over the next few weeks will have the information they need to complete the census accurately,” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the time for self-response by mail, online or by phone has been extended from the end of July to the end of October. After that, non-response workers will make “safe” contact with those who have not responded to help them complete the surveys.
Johnson said the national response rate is good, but that some populations or regions lag behind.
“We are approaching now what we expected at the national level,” he said, “but that does not mean that we have done that in every area.”
The national response rate as of Thursday was 60.3%. New Mexico’s rate of 47.9% put it among only six other states or regions in the United States with less than a 50% response rate. Chaves County’s rate on Thursday was 55.4%. Roswell’s rate was 58.9%, Dexter’s rate was 25.6%, Hagerman’s was 29.5% and Lake Arthur’s was 20.5%.
A June 6 rally, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center, 912 N. Main St., is one of the efforts to help boost local participation.
The 10-year census determines allocation of federal funding for many programs, as well as state and federal legislative representation. As determined by the 2010 Census count, New Mexico received more than $7.82 billion for 55 different programs. For each 1% undercount in Chaves County for 2020, it is estimated that it will lose $19.28 million in federal funds.
One of the people who stressed the importance of the census count to the area was David Briseno, director of outreach for La Casa Family Health Center, which provides dental, medical and mental health services in Portales, Clovis and Roswell.
“The data will be used to plan for current and future needs and to ensure that New Mexico receives the federal dollars needed to reach those in poverty and the uninsured,” he said.
New Mexico received $4.3 billion in Medicaid coverage in 2016, with about $69 million going to community health clinics, Briseno said. Recipients included 414,277 New Mexico children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A large percentage of Medicaid and CHIP enrollees, about 47%, are children. He also said that La Casa and other health clinics rely on a federally funded prescription program that enables them to buy pharmaceuticals at cost to provide to patients.
In addition, he said, federal allocations determined by the census also provide money for food banks and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that are part of the effort to promote health in New Mexico communities.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.