'Soft opening' for census door knocking to begin next month

MIKE SCHNEIDER

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Door knocking by census takers at the homes of people who haven't yet responded to the 2020 census is scheduled to start next month with a “soft launch," while a previously postponed count of the homeless will take place in September, U.S. Census Bureau officials said Friday.

The door knocking to interview households that haven’t yet responded to the 2020 census was supposed to have started last month, but the ongoing pandemic prompted officials to push most of it back until August. Next month will mark the start of a “soft launch” in six locations around the country to be named later “to ensure systems, operations and field plans work as they should,” the bureau said in a statement.

All census takers will be trained in social distancing and will have personal protective equipment, according to the bureau.

As of Thursday, almost 61% of U.S. residents had answered the census questionnaire either online, by telephone or by mailing back the form. The Census Bureau plans to hire hundreds of thousands of census takers to knock on household doors for those who haven't answered the questionnaire. The higher the self-response rate is, the fewer workers are needed, which translates into lower costs for conducting the census.

The Census Bureau on Friday also announced the schedule for other operations aimed at counting every person in the U.S. These operations target less than 5% of the population.

For three days in September, census takers will go to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and places where people are known to sleep outdoors to count people experiencing homelessness. That operation also was supposed to have taken place at the end of March but was postponed because of the pandemic.

In-person interviews in remote parts of northern Maine and southeast Alaska will resume later this month after being halted in mid-March because of the spread of the new coronavirus. The bureau also stopped census takers in mid-March from dropping off paper forms to households in rural areas, but that work resumed last month.

The 2020 census will help determine how many congressional seats each state gets as well as how $1.5 trillion in federal funding will be distributed.

Because of the pandemic, the Census Bureau has pushed back the deadline for completing the nation's head count from the end of July to the end of October. The agency is also asking Congress to move back the deadlines for turning over reapportionment and redistricting data.

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