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South Texas leaders call for census count to be extended through end of year

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Census workers reduced already in Rio Grande Valley

ALTON, Texas (Border Report) — Two South Texas congressmen on Wednesday called for the U.S. Census Bureau to extend the agency’s count through December, saying there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires the count to end before the year does.

But given the Trump administration’s requests to end the census tonight — a month earlier than expected — it’s unlikely that any further extension would occur.

During an online forum on Wednesday afternoon with leaders of Futuro RGV, a nonprofit community watchdog group, U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar, both Democrats who represent this region, said they’d like to see the census count extended until Dec. 31.

“There is no law that limits the end of the census, we should continue counting through the end of the year,” said Gonzalez, who is a lawyer.

Cuellar, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said the issue was brought up last week during a budgetary continuing resolution discussion that could have appropriated more funds to extend the count for the bureau. But he said the topic was quickly shot down.

“It’s not a money-issue. It’s just a decision that somebody feels we should not go and extend it. Point blank,” Cuellar said during the Facebook live event on Wednesday afternoon. “And you can guess who those people are.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez expressed frustration at the possibility that his low-income border county could lose millions of dollars in federal funding if under-counted.

“The undercounting continues decade after decade. Our goal is to have an accurate count and how do we get there?” Cortez said.

Gonzalez said that for every 1,000 households not counted, “we lose approximately $150 million in federal resources in our area.”

U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, left, and Henry Cuellar, both Democrats from Texas, want an extension on Census counting to ensure all border families are counted in 2020. (Courtesy Photos)

The constitutionally-mandated count that is to occur every 10 years, was substantially hindered by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March. COVID-19 hit South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley especially hard, with Hidalgo County having the second-most fatalities in the entire state.

“Time is running out and time is of the essence and we need to do more outreach and we need to do more registering,” Gonzalez said. “We need to continue doing this to the finish line.”

But exactly when the finish line is remains unclear.

The Trump administration had initially set an end-date of Oct. 31, but over the summer decided to end the count earlier, which would have been at midnight tonight. Then, a federal judge in California last week ordered the count to continue through October. But the Trump administration is expected to appeal to a higher court any day now.

Several census workers have also told Border Report that the staffing has already been reduced in anticipation of the early cut-off. The local spokeswoman has even been let go.

Volunteers with LUPE help residents in Alton, Texas, fill out the Census and get free flu shots on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Many families in the low-income rural community of Alton, in western Hidalgo County, lack Internet service and English-language skills. And many undocumented families living in the colonias fear possible deportation if they fill out the form, although census officials have assured residents that the information is confidential and not shared with other government agencies.

The nonprofit group La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) recently has held several get-out-and register events and rallies in South Texas in Alamo, Edinburg and Alton.

“For now, we are doing all we can to count our communities by Sept 30th,” the group said in a statement.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sareth Garcia was helping to organize a line of people who came to LUPE’s offices in Alton to get free flu shots and fill out the census. “If we don’t get counted today we won’t have extra or more federal money for our schools and for many things,” Garcia said.

The Census this year for the first time ever was offered online, but many residents here lack Internet service. “That’s a big problem so LUPE is trying to help them to fill out the Census,” she said.

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