With 95% homes hit, feds say no need for census extension

U.S. Census Director Steven Dillingham speaks as he joins Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey as they hold a news conference to urge Arizonans to participate in the nation's once-a-decade census population count Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Phoenix. Ending the 2020 census at the end of September instead of the end of October, could cost Florida and Montana congressional seats and result in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina losing $500 million in federal funding for healthcare for its neediest residents.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — With the number of U.S. households counted topping 95%, there is no reason for a judge to order the U.S. Census Bureau to extend by a month the head count of every U.S. resident, government attorneys said in court papers Tuesday.

“Plaintiffs’ claims of harm in this matter are rapidly evaporating," the government attorneys said ahead of a virtual court hearing in San Jose, California, over whether the 2020 census should stop at the end of September or continue through October.

A coalition of cities, counties and civil rights groups is suing the Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce in an effort to extend the 2020 census for another month. They said in court papers Tuesday that the decision to shorten the schedule was forced on the bureau. Bureau officials knew the shortened scheduled would risk accuracy in the count and “was impossible to do right."

The judge in the San Jose case earlier this month issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Census Bureau from winding down 2020 census operations until she could issue a ruling. Plaintiffs in the San Jose case allege the decision to shorten the schedule was made to accommodate a directive from President Donald Trump. The order tried to exclude people in the country illegally from being included in the numbers used for deciding how many congressional seats each state gets in a process known as apportionment.

A three-judge panel in New York blocked Trump’s directive earlier this month, saying it was unlawful. The Trump administration ion Tuesday asked the Supreme Court for fast action on its appeal.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, the bureau had planned to complete the 2020 census by the end of July. In response to the pandemic, it extended the deadline to the end of October. That changed to the end of September after the Republican-controlled Senate failed to take up a request from the Census Bureau to extend the deadline for turning over the numbers used for apportionment. As a result, government attorneys say the Census Bureau has no choice but to finish the count by Sept. 30.

In their court papers Tuesday, the government attorneys, supported by a declaration from a Census Bureau associate director, said the census operations were being harmed by the temporary restraining order. The order prevented operations from winding down in areas almost completely counted so the most successful census takers can focus on the hardest cases. they said.

The government attorneys said they were inclined to appeal the temporary restraining order on Wednesday, and if that appeal isn't allowed by the judge, the Census Bureau would be forced to take steps toward winding down operations which they had halted been because of the order.

If U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh agrees with the plaintiffs to issue an order mandating the extra month for the census, it should be suspended while the Census Bureau appeals, the government attorneys said.

In his declaration, Al Fontenot, an associate director for Decennial Census Programs, said that while West Coast wildfires and Gulf Coast hurricanes threatened the completion of the census, so did the judge's temporary order.

“Every day that Court injunctions preclude us from following our normal field procedures makes it more difficult for us to complete a timely and complete census," Fontenot said.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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