(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) joined Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in sending a letter today with 17 Members of Congress to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham seeking an explanation of the administration’s plan to address Puerto Rico’s critically low levels of 2020 Census response. Only 24.9 percent of Puerto Ricans have filled out the Census so far, well short of the state average Census response rate of 61.5 percent.
The letter was also signed by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Rep. Jesu?s G. “Chuy’ Garci?a (D-Ill.), Rep. Nydia M. Vela?zquez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Tony Ca?rdenas (D-Calif.), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Rep. Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (D-Guam), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-P.R.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif), and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.).
In the letter, the lawmakers raise serious concerns that Puerto Rico continues to have the lowest participation rate in the country and is drastically falling behind its 2010 response rate, which was above 50 percent. They write:
Without a proper population count, Puerto Rico will lose out on the nearly $900 billion in grants, direct payments, loans, and loan guarantees that the federal government distributes annually to states and individuals based on data collected in the census. The residents of Puerto Rico are still recovering from the devastating impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, a major January earthquake with continuous aftershocks, and the current coronavirus pandemic. Now is not the time to further jeopardize an already fragile populace by potentially reducing funding from major public services such as Medicaid, Medicare, the Nutrition Assistance Program, Federal Pell Grant Program, and many more….Given that the data collected from the census will play a major role in the allocation of federal funding and resources on the island for the next decade, it is imperative that the Department act quickly and effectively in addressing this issue.
The Trump administration is not starting from scratch when it comes to Census participation. The 2010 Census of Puerto Rico Assessment Report, released by the Department and Bureau in 2012, includes key lessons learned and recommendations to improve the planning, development, and implementation of the 2020 Census on the island.
Given the current low 2020 Census participation rate on the island, it is unclear whether these and other recommendations are being implemented. The lawmakers point to the report in today’s letter and ask what actions the federal government is taking to ensure an accurate count of the population.
The Trump administration efforts to add the citizenship question and the president’s recent political appointments to the nonpartisan agency responsible for the 2020 Census have reduced public trust in the Census process. There are serious concerns that President Trump is working to distort the Census and that his administration intends, despite legal precedent, to prevent undocumented immigrants from being counted in the Census.