NAACP, Prince George’s Co. concerned US Census not prepared for 2020

WASHINGTON — Attorneys for the NAACP and Prince George’s County say the federal government hasn’t done enough to make sure African-Americans and Latinos are counted accurately in the 2020 census.

Citing what they say is the “imminent threat” of an undercount by the U.S. Census Bureau, attorneys have filed suit in federal court. The NAACP, its Prince George’s branch, Prince George’s County and two county residents are parties in the suit.

Charlotte Schwartz, an attorney working on the suit on behalf of the NAACP, said the federal government’s preparations for the upcoming census have been “extraordinarily deficient.” The concern, according to Brad Berry, general counsel for the NAACP, is that there could be an undercount.

Data from the U.S. Census is used to determine how many seats states have in the U.S. House of Representatives. Census information also has an impact on how federal funds are funneled to localities.

“We are seeking injunctive relief requiring the government to take the steps necessary to conduct a fair and accurate census,” Berry told reporters at Wednesday’s news conference at the National Press Club.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker said an undercount could disproportionately affect residents in the county he serves because the majority of residents are African-American.

“We’re always worried about federal funds and whether in fact, in this great democracy of ours, our voices will be heard. There is nothing more important than making sure the census gets it right,” he said.

In the 2010 census, Prince George’s County saw an undercount of 2.3 percent. Baker said, “It’s ironic because Prince George’s County is where the home of the Census Bureau is.”

Prince George’s County resident Elizabeth Johnson put it succinctly: “It’s all about money; we all know that.”

Johnson was referring to the fact that the U.S. Census data is used to distribute federal funds to local governments. Johnson said local governments can struggle to make improvements, and as a resident of Prince George’s County, she said that’s important to her.

“If you don’t have the money, you can’t make the changes. You can’t do the things that need to be done,” she said.

When asked whether the lawsuit reflects concerns about the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to add a question about U.S. citizenship on the census, Berry said that it was a separate, but important issue.

Baker said that was an issue for residents in his county as well. He said the Latino community is the fastest growing population in Prince George’s County, so the addition of a citizenship question will have an impact.

“It has a chilling effect on people who are unsure of their immigration status,” Baker said, noting that it adds to the possibility of an undercount.

WTOP contacted the U.S. Census Bureau for comment and was referred to the Department of Commerce.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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