Very little time is left to fill out the Census, and 70 percent of Rio Arriba County residents have not yet done so, according to federal data.
“That is going to have the most unbelievably adverse impact on our quality of life and our wellbeing for the next 10 years,” said County Special Projects Director Cristina Caltagirone.
It is not entirely clear when the Census will end. The count is currently scheduled to close Sept. 30, after the Trump administration lopped a month off the Census calendar, despite warnings from Bureau officials that doing so would “fatal data quality flaws that are unacceptable for a Constitutionally-mandated national activity.”
But as of Tuesday morning, federal courts were in the midst of deciding whether to order the Bureau to continue its operations through Oct. 31, as was originally planned.
The Rio Arriba Complete Count Committee is proceeding with its efforts as if the Census will end Sept. 30––the Committee organized a Census Grand Finale counting event for the weekend of Sept. 18 and 19––and will re-evaluate how to move forward if the timeline is extended.
As of Tuesday morning, 30.5 percent of County residents had filled out their Census, according to federal data.
About 32 percent of Española residents had completed the Census, while roughly 18 percent of people in Chama had filled it out.
About 34 percent of people in Santa Clara had responded, 36 percent of people in Ohkay Owingeh had responded and 17 percent of people on the Jicarilla Apache Nation had completed the Census.
It is possible that more County residents have been counted, as Census Bureau workers have also been counting people who did not respond on their own.
The Bureau has counted roughly 92 percent of New Mexicans in total, according to federal data, while only 57 percent of state residents responded themselves to the Census.
But the Bureau has not released the total number of County residents counted, and given the seeming lack of Census enumerators in the County and the tangled communication from the Bureau County officials have received over the course of the Census, County officials are skeptical that many more Rio Arriba residents have been counted beyond those who completed the form themselves.
It is also possible that more people in the County have responded to the Census than the federal data reports––numerous County residents did not receive packets with which to fill out the form, as they were supposed to, so some filled it out without those packets, and it is not clear whether the Bureau will count their efforts.
Other County residents received multiple packets, though they were only supposed to receive one.
County officials are worried the federal government is trying to undercount people of color and rural residents of New Mexico and have asked the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to investigate the Bureau’s campaign.
If just 1 percent of County residents goes uncounted, the County will lose $11.6 million in revenue over 10 years, according to estimates from the University of New Mexico. If 30 percent goes uncounted, the County will lose nearly $350 million.
Those funds are used to help provide social services and programs that County residents depend on, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants and Children (WIC); United States Department of Agriculture Facilities Loan and Grants Program and the Native American Employment and Training Program.
The County’s recent Census efforts have boosted Rio Arriba’s numbers by about 7 percent, Caltagirone said.
Those efforts have included weekly radio programs, into which residents can call and fill out their Census, and seven Census fiestas throughout three weekends.
The fiestas took the form of COVID-19 safe drive-thrus where County residents could fill out their forms, watch videos from local leaders and comedians about the importance of the Census and receive gift cards to local businesses.
Over the course of the three weekends, 960 households were counted, Audrey Herrera-Castillo, who is serving as a consultant to the County for the Census, wrote in a Monday text message.
Moving Arts Española Co-Founder and Director Roger Montoya, who is running for State House, said in a Sept. 18 phone call that while standing on the street corner and holding a sign advertising the Sept. 12 and 13 Census fiestas, he encountered a fair amount of cynical hecklers who yelled from their cars that they would never complete the Census.
“People took the time to roll their window down and yell out profanities about their mistrust of government,” he said.
Asked about the hecklers, Caltagirone said that the democratic system will only work if citizens are engaged and trying to hold politicians accountable.
“Democracy is only as good as the engagement of its people,” she said.
Through her work on the Census campaign, she has learned that Census data historically has overrepresented white communities and underrepresented communities of color, skewing “allotment of our wealth and our representative power across the nation.”
“I believe in the power of organizing, I believe in the power of people mobilizing and advocating for themselves,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to come together and to recognize we’re being underrepresented and underserved and to claim that back, to claim that power and that representation back.”