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State officials voice concerns about census

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About four out of 10 Roswell residents have not completed a census survey yet. They have 19 more days to do so, unless deadlines are extended. A Chaves County Courthouse booth each Saturday morning is only one of numerous locations in the county where people can get help with the survey. Marcos Nava, left, and his son, Marc Nava, manned the booth in July. (Submitted Photo)

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Local volunteers urge more participation before month’s end

New Mexico’s top elected officials are sounding the alarm that the state could experience a significant undercount of its population for the 2020 Census unless federal actions are taken to help states, especially those with large rural areas or traditionally hard-to-reach groups.

With each person counted representing about $37,000 in federal dollars to the state during a 10-year period — money used for roads, schools, health care, food programs and other projects — U.S. senators and representatives for the state and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that the Sept. 30 response deadline needs to be extended or other federal actions taken to assist. If not, the state will lose $600 million or $700 million for every 1% undercount.

They also said the greatest effect will be felt in low-income areas with the greatest needs for internet, infrastructure, food, shelter, education and health care.

“The census is our one opportunity to ensure that New Mexico gets its fair share of federal dollars for the next decade,” said Lujan Grisham. “This is New Mexico tax dollars that we send to the federal government, and they must be brought back here where they will make an incredible difference for communities across the state.”

The decennial census population counts and demographics also determine the number of elected officials in state and federal legislative bodies, are used by researchers to make public policy decisions and help businesses decide about new locations or target markets.

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As it stands now, people have 19 more days to complete the survey by internet, phone or mail. Originally, the date was July 30, but the Trump Administration had decided to delay that deadline until Oct. 30 due to the office shutdowns and social distancing requirements caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. Then the administration reversed course again and pushed up the deadline to the end of September.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-Albuquerque, said the Trump Administration “inexplicably” changed its mind, especially considering the difficulties presented by the pandemic.

“We are all deeply worried that this last-minute change will lead to a major undercount, especially in New Mexico hard-to-count areas,” Heinrich said.

He also said New Mexico has traditional challenges reaching non-English speakers and undocumented or migrant residents worried about how the government will use the data, worries he said the presidential administration had heightened by threatening to exclude certain groups or sharing the data with other federal agencies.

The head of the local census effort, the 2020 Roswell Complete Count Committee, said Roswell especially is doing good — with about six out of 10 people responding so far — but acknowledges that he wants to do more to reach the other four.

“It definitely does hurt when a campaign is cut short,” said Marcos Nava, also executive director of the Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce. “The more time we have to get to them (the other four out of 10), it helps.”

Nava said that other factors also are impacting local efforts besides federal government decisions. Those include state count committee officials declining to come to Roswell for events, saying they need to give more attention to other areas of the state with lower response rates, and hearing that enumerators originally assigned to the Roswell area are being sent to other southeastern New Mexico cities. Enumerators are Census Bureau employees or contractors tasked with following up with people who have not completed the surveys on their own.

Heinrich said that he was aware that the hiring goals for enumerators for New Mexico were below Census Bureau goals, but specifics were not available by press time. Nava said he also has asked about that information.

As it stood on Tuesday, New Mexico has a self-response rate of 56.4%, which increased to 81.5% when follow-ups from enumerators were counted. But that still places New Mexico 45th in the state. The No. 1-ranking state in the nation is Idaho, with a 98.5% total response rate.

The follow-up counts are not available for cities or counties. Information as of Tuesday shows that Chaves County is fifth in the state for its self-response rate of 60.7%.

Roswell ranks 10th among cities in the state for its self-response rate of 64.1%. That’s about 8 points lower than the 72% needed to reach the 50,000 population count goal for the area, as Nava has estimated.

Lake Arthur ranks 47th in the state with 45%. Hagerman is 65th with 38.8%, and Dexter is 73rd with 36.3%.

Louis Jaramillo, Chaves County Planning and Zoning director, who heads the county volunteer census effort, says the work of enumerators is definitely crucial.

“We would like to see more participation in the Valley area, where our numbers are extremely low,” Jaramillo said. “Here in southern New Mexico, from Silver City to Hobbs, we are only 70% complete for our enumerators.”

He said the U.S. states with the highest rankings have a 90% completion rate by enumerators.

“If you don’t want those people knocking on your doors, please do it online or come by and we can help you,” he said, adding that gift cards to local restaurants are still being given out to those who complete the surveys.

Jaramillo said people can call the Planning and Zoning Office at 575-624-6562 for assistance or to obtain phone numbers for other assistance sites. Nava said people also can call the Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce at 575-624-0889.

Other assistance sites include Roswell City Hall, Roswell Public Library, all the elementary schools in the Roswell school district, the Chaves County JOY Centers and the town halls in Lake Arthur, Dexter and Hagerman.

Nava also will continue to have a booth each Saturday morning until Sept. 26 at the Chaves County Courthouse lawn during the Farmers’ and Gardeners’ Market.

To fill out a survey with the Census Bureau, people can call 844-330-2020 or go to the website at www.2020census.gov.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.