Stronger Houston: With the census deadline looming, city leaders push for residents to get themselves counted

HOUSTON – The window to complete the 2020 census is closing. The deadline to fill out the once-a-decade survey is Sept. 30. Houston leaders stress this is not just a population questionnaire but one that helps to determine how much money and what programs your community will see over the next ten years.

Texans have an opportunity to have their voices heard before the November election through the census. There are only seven days left to take part and be counted.

The census helps the government decide how billions in federal funds get divided among communities across the country. In Houston, those federal dollars could help pay for school lunch for children, highway construction or housing assistance for older adults.

It also determines the number of congressional seats Texas will receive. Businesses also look at census data to decide where to open shop.

“I have received a notice, but I’ve been a little bit busy with other stuff going on, especially with COVID-19,” said Houstonian Mariana Avalos. She said she plans to fill it out before the approaching deadline.

The U.S. Census Bureau began contacting households in mid-March. This year, the questionnaire can be filled out by mail, phone or online. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, census takers like Debra Allison started canvassing neighborhoods last month. Allison goes door-to-door armed with a badge, notepad and mask.

“It’s been sort of warm, especially wearing a mask but it’s really important and I really encourage everybody to fill out your census,” Allison said as she knocked on doors.

Michael Cook with the U.S. Census Bureau said the aim to make sure that anyone who hasn’t responded to the 2020 census does so soon.

“Houston as a city is right at 57% of a self-response rate,” Cook said. “Just to put that into context the state has mid-60′s in their self-response rate.”

Self-response rates tell the Census Bureau the number of households who have responded.

Fort Bend County ranks first in Texas with a 74% response rate while Harris County sits at 61%.

Breaking the numbers down even further to Houston’s districts, District E, which covers Clear Lake and Kingwood, has the highest response rate in the city with 65% of households filling out the census. District J, which encompasses Gulfton and could benefit from federal funding, has the lowest response with 50%.

“District J is like a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities,” said City Councilman Edward Pollard, who represents District J. “So, we have a lot of immigrants, a lot of refugees, a lot of undocumented people and over 85% of our residents live in apartment complexes.”

Pollard said with that diversity comes challenges.

“So you have to understand we have a lot of culture barriers, language barriers and then we have the fear factor. Whenever there’s something government-driven, which the census is, there’s a fear of some communities that if they fill out the information it will expose them or their family members to deportation," he said.

City officials ideally would like everyone counted. It’s why you’ll notice census signs and billboards in English and in Spanish across the city. With this year’s deadline approaching a month early, the City of Houston is doing all it can to get Houstonians to fill out the short questionnaire.

“For every person who is not counted it’s about $1,800 of funding lost every year for the next 10 years,” said Margaret Wallace Brown, Houston’s Director of Planning and Development. “That’s a big number, a huge number and can we afford to give up that amount of federal funding for a community that really needs it.”

Cook said having field workers back in the community is helping. He said response rates are growing week-to-week. He hopes that upward trend continues until the Sept. 30 deadline.

On March 31, 2021, the Census Bureau will send redistricting counts to the states based on population changes.

You can self-respond to the Census here and make sure you and the members of your household are counted.

What is Stronger Houston?

As Houston’s first television station and after more than 70 years of broadcasting, KPRC continues to work to serve our community. In our series Stronger Houston,” we examine issues impacting people inequitably by race, gender, income, age, geography, religion, and other factors. These fault lines can create unfair divides in our community. We strive to not only raise awareness but also focus on solutions, resources available, and the people and groups working to reduce the disparity and ultimately create a stronger Houston.