City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Tuesday that Los Angeles has joined other cities and national organizations in filing a lawsuit to block the shortening of the U.S. Census response deadline, now set for the end of September.
In April, when the COVID-19 pandemic was fairly new and stay-at-home orders had been issued in certain regions across the nation, the Census Bureau announced it would extend the deadline for people to respond to Oct. 31. But on Aug. 3, the bureau shortened the deadline to Sept. 30.
“Every L.A. resident has so much that is riding on having an accurate census count,” Feuer said, adding he sent a letter to the bureau the day the change was announced asking for an explanation, but received no response.
Feuer said shortening the response deadline amid the COVID-19 pandemic is unconstitutional and could put Los Angeles at risk of losing seats in Congress and millions of dollars in funding.
The League of Women Voters of the United States, National Urban League, Black Alliance for Immigration, cities of Salinas and San Jose, and Harris County, Texas, Court Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia joined Los Angeles in filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.
“The government’s forcing the census timeline back to Sept. 30 fails to consider the indisputable impact COVID-19 had on this important process and is another attempt to obstruct full enumeration of America’s people,” said Deborah Turner, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States.
“States and municipalities rely on an accurate census count to ensure adequate funding of basic necessities for all Americans: critical infrastructure, schools, hospitals, social services,” she said.
Thus far, 53.8% of Los Angeles County residents have completed the census online or by mail, Feuer said — far below the last census count in 2010 when 68% of residents responded and below this year’s state average of 65%.
“The rush plan is unconstitutional. The rush plan violates federal law. The rush plan is a recipe for a severe undercount with repercussions that will last for years,” Feuer said.
Feuer said the census now relies heavily on the internet, but more than 20% of Los Angeles County residents don’t have access to broadband connections, and non-English-speaking households are harder to count, with nearly a quarter of county residents not having English language proficiency.
“Since day one, the Trump administration has targeted, intimidated and vilified our Latino community and people of color, so while the city of Los Angeles is not surprised by his illegal action to undercount our residents and rob them of resources and representation, we will not stand idly by and let it happen,” Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors raised concerns earlier this month about the 2020 census, voting to oppose the federal government’s efforts to exclude immigrants living in the country illegally from the count and shutting down data collection one month earlier than expected.
The board authorized its lawyers to challenge a memo issued by President Donald Trump last month seeking to exclude people in the country illegally from the count used to allocate seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.