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OPINION

Letter to the Editor: Delaying Census deadline the right decision for Iowans

Shelly Hughes - Waukee

Not long after the 2020 Iowa Caucuses wrapped up earlier this year, the world seemed to turn upside down. Attention became almost entirely focused on the spreading COVID-19 pandemic. In the weeks following Iowa’s first confirmed case, we saw schools and many businesses close as the day-to-day life we knew seemingly ground to a halt. Throughout all the upheaval, though, officials continued work on the 2020 Census ahead of the October 5th cutoff for collecting responses.

As a former Waukee City Council member of 8 years, I know that the U.S. Census plays a major role in our government, and its results can make a big difference in communities like ours. Especially when it comes to burgeoning cities like Waukee that have grown exponentially since the last Census a decade ago. With everything that has gone on this year, however, the accuracy of the results this time around could be in jeopardy unless that cutoff date is pushed back.

While we have had relatively good Census response rates here in Iowa, there is still more work to do in order to ensure that every Iowan is properly accounted for, especially those who live in rural areas that are harder to reach for Census officials, or areas that may not be able to respond to the Census over the internet. 

This is because undercounting our state by even a small margin could have immense repercussions for all involved. One of the most important purposes of the Census is to dole out seats in the House of Representatives based on each state’s population. If enough people go uncounted, Iowans could lose House seats, and in turn our voice in shaping federal policy would be diminished. Rural states are already overlooked enough in Washington, and we simply cannot afford to let that issue get even worse.

Beyond representation in the Capitol, our census results will also directly affect what share of federal aid Iowa receives. Officials use the results of the Census to distribute about $1.5 trillion in federal funding, and undercounting could cost our communities tens of millions of dollars. Instead of being reinvested in our own communities, our hard-earned tax dollars could end up going to other states with higher response rates, directly harming our ability to fix roads, improve our schools, and so much more. 

Given how much is at stake, it only makes sense for Congress to allow for more time to gather the results of the Census and guarantee that its findings more fully reflect the makeup of the country. Between the pandemic and the natural disasters that have taken over the news cycle recently, it has only gotten more difficult for Census officials to gather the results they need, making the current October 5th cutoff for Census collection all the more difficult to meet. And while the issue is currently being litigated in the court system, its fate is still mired in uncertainty, meaning legislative action is the only surefire way to get this done.

Senators on both sides of the aisle are already working together on a bill to push that deadline back another month, and I hope Iowa’s own Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley will join that effort. Allowing for some extra time would be a huge help for ensuring accurate results in Iowa, and would no doubt help us be better prepared to handle the decade ahead before the next Census.

For states like Iowa, making sure the Census gets a full count of our state is critical. The Census findings could make or break our representation in the federal government, and could cost our state millions of its own tax dollars. Delaying the collection deadline past October 5th is the most responsible direction to take so that, come the 2030 Census, Iowa is in an even stronger position than it is right now. 

- Shelly Hughes, Waukee