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Interview: Census Bureau Makes Final Push To Count Montanans

Lauri Kindness holds a tablet that Western Native Voice workers use to assist citizens in registering for the census at their pop-up drive through registration station on Sept. 28, 2020.
Kaitlyn Nicholas
Yellowstone Public Radio
Lauri Kindness holds a tablet that Western Native Voice workers use to assist citizens in registering for the census at their pop-up drive through registration station on Sept. 28, 2020.

There’s still time to be counted in the 2020 census. A complete count could secure Montana second seat in Congress and millions of federal dollars for schools, healthcare and roads over the next 10 years. Yellowstone Public Radio News’ Nicky Ouellet spoke with Virginia Hyer with the U.S. Census Bureau about what the Bureau is doing on the ground as the deadline looms. The Bureau on Friday said as a result of court orders counting efforts will continue through October 31.

NICKY OUELLET: Virginia, about 60 percent of Montanans have responded on their own to the 2020 census and 96 percent have responded after follow up from census workers. How does that stack up against the rest of the country?

VIRGINIA HYER: That's a little bit below what we're seeing from the most of the country. We're about 98 percent complete across the nation right now and just really hoping that everyone in Montana, if you haven't responded already, please go ahead and do so. You can go to or you can give us a call or send in that paper questionnaire that we mailed to you.

NO: Many Montanans live in areas that the Census Bureau calls hard to count. Often these are rural areas where people don't have a private mailing address, so they don't receive mailings from the Bureau. What is the Bureau doing to connect with these hard to reach Montanans?

VH: Right now we are sending census takers to homes that have not participated in the census yet and that includes people that might not receive a mail at their physical location. What we're doing is census takers are going door to door. When they do arrive, they will be wearing a mask and they will practice social distancing. When they conduct the short interview, you can identify a census taker by what they are wearing. They will have a census identification badge and they will have a U.S. Census Bureau bag with them and they will collect the information on a government issued iPhone. So you can know that when a census taker does come to your door, that your information is kept completely confidential and that they are a legitimate representative of defense's Bureau.

NO: How many Census Bureau workers are doing that kind of field work in Montana? And what kind of specialists have been deployed to the state to help in areas, particularly tribal nations, where there might be some distrust of federal government workers?

VH: We try our best to hire locally so we've really encouraged everyone to apply for a 2020 census job. And that includes those that live on tribal lands. Right now we have over 200,000 census takers across the nation going door to door to collect that information. We just hope that if a census taker does come to your home, that you please work with them to respond to the 2020 census, but you can also still go online to if you haven't responded yet. In addition, the census takers will leave a notice of visit on your door when they do arrive. And we just ask that you follow that information and those instructions left and you can know that you're responding to the 2020 census.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted Oct. 1 before a federal judge issued an order to clarify that the Bureau must continue counting for the 2020 census through Oct. 31. The Bureau had previously set a “target date” of Oct. 5 to end the count. The Bureau on Oct. 2 issued this statement: “As a result of court orders, the October 5, 2020 target date is not operative, and data collection operations will continue through October 31, 2020. Employees should continue to work diligently and enumerate as many people as possible. Contact your supervisor with any questions.”

NO: What deadline is the Bureau currently working under? Like, what is the last day that someone can fill out the 2020 census online or by phone? Or when will the Bureau be ending it's on the ground outreach?

VH: Right now, we are targeting October 5 as the deadline to respond, but are asking everyone, if you have not responded, please do so today so you can still respond on your own. Through October 5, you can also continue to respond with that paper questionnaire that we mailed to you a few weeks ago.

NO: That October 5 deadline is many days in front of what a federal judge recently said: October 31 should be the last day that the census would be wrapping up.

VH: I'm not able to speak to any ongoing litigation. Right now, we are targeting October 5 as the end date but are continuing to comply with federal court orders and asking that everyone please respond today to the 2020 census.

NO: What's at stake if Montana is under counted?

VH: The 2020 census takes only about 10 minutes and impacts your future for the next 10 years, for things like our political representation in Congress, not only at the state level, but also at the federal level for our representation in the House of Representatives. It's also about federal funding and local funding that is allocated based on the Census Bureau figures for things like school lunch programs and road and highway grants, along with emergency services. So we just need to know how many people live in Montana, so you all get the resources that you need.

NO: This is kind of the whole point of the census, but, how many Montanans does the Bureau believe remained to be counted at this point?

VH: We are seeing that in Montana right now that about 96 percent of households have been counted in Montana. So we need four more percent of Montanans to please respond to the 2020 census. We are continuing to go door to door and ask that you do cooperate with a census taker when they come to your home, so we can have a complete count for Montana.

NO: Is there anything that I didn't ask that you think is important for listeners to hear?

VH: Just want to note that the 2020 census is completely safe to participate in. When you respond to the 2020 census, we keep that information confidential and we do not share that information with local law enforcement or any federal law enforcement agencies. That includes ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. So you can know that when you do respond to the 2020 census, that everything is kept completely

NO: Virginia, thanks so much.

VH: Thanks, Nicky. It was nice speaking with you.