SEABROOK — The Prince George’s County government, the NAACP and the Prince George’s County NAACP are moving forward with their lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau on the basis that it is unprepared for 2020 Census, which will lead to an undercount of communities of color.
The plaintiffs, which include Prince George’s County NAACP President Robert Ross and Executive Committee Member Elizabeth Johnson, initially filed their complaint on March 28, 2018, against Census Bureau Acting Director Ron Jarmin, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and President Donald Trump.
The case, which is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, contends communities of color, including Prince George’s County, have been repeatedly undercounted in the past.
This violates the Enumeration Clause in the Constitution that requires the federal government to perform an “actual enumeration” of all people living in the United States, according to the plaintiff’s original complaint.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs detail the history of undercounting African American communities, which has persisted to the present day.
Prince George’s County was repeatedly undercounted in past censuses, the NAACP and other plaintiffs stated in their lawsuit. The majority African American county was undercounted by 1.91% in 2000 and by 2.3% in 2010, which was the largest net census undercount of any county in Maryland and one of the largest in the U.S. among counties with 100,000 or more residents.
“When the Census Bureau undercounts my community, we lose political power, and fewer of our federal tax dollars end up coming home to fix our roads, run our schools, and fund our federal programs,” said Bob Ross in a statement. “We felt these effects in the aftermath of the 2010 Census, and all signs indicate that the 2020 Census will be even worse.”
The lawsuit alleged that the trend of undercounting minority communities would be repeated in the 2020 Census as the Census Bureau is unprepared. They claim that due to funding shortfalls, the Census Bureau is understaffed, has done inadequate planning and has been insufficient in testing new technology. The resulting undercount would violate the Enumeration Clause.
Due to undercounting in the past, Prince George’s County has made a concerted effort to start early with informing people about the census.
County officials have launched an extensive outreach effort to get as many people as possible counted when the census begins in April.
According to Prince George’s County Councilmember Deni Taveras (District 2), 60% of the population within the county’s hard-to-county areas within the inner beltway did not fill out the census in 2010.
“We lost $363 million over 10 years, and the impact of not being able to provide money for schools, money for children, Medicare, Medicaid, all the things that come through the federal government,” Taveras said. “I wouldn’t say just for my community; I would say that this would be the case for all inner beltway communities in the county.”
According to Taveras, these areas fit the criteria for hard-to-count communities which include children ages zero to five, seniors, veterans, homeless, multi-family homes, LGBTQ and minorities.
To ensure the trend does not repeat itself, the Prince George’s County Council approved the creation of a Census Complete County Committee. Comprised of volunteers, the committee participates in various outreach efforts to encourage people to fill out the census.
This includes partnering with schools, elected officials and community organizations, participating in community events and distributing information on the census with an extra focus on hard-to-count areas.
The lawsuit gained new momentum in the past few weeks. The court denied the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which allowed the plaintiffs to proceed on their Enumeration Clause claim.
However, the district court dismissed their second amended complaint because the plaintiffs’ Enumeration Clause claim had become moot after Congress passed an appropriations bill in February 2019.
“There has been a significant change in the facts relevant to Plaintiffs’ underfunding claim, in that the Bureau now has funding in the amount of $3,551,388,000 through 2021,” U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm said in his Memorandum Opinion and Order on August 1.
“Given that the Bureau not only received funding, but received the exact amount requested for it in the president’s budget request to Congress…Defendants have established that ‘there is no reasonable expectation . . .’ that the (likely underfunding) will recur.”
However, the plaintiffs filed an appeal on Aug. 6 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit where they asked the court to review the district court’s decision.
They also asked to expedite their appeal as the census is quickly approaching and “This appeal must be heard in (an) expedited fashion for plaintiffs to have an opportunity to obtain meaningful and effective relief,” they said.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants have cut funding and staff for census operations that are crucial for reaching hard-to-count communities.
They also alleged that the Bureau has refused to spend funds appropriated by Congress that are now sitting in agency reserves to meet arbitrary cost constraints.
Their request to continue and expedite the case was granted, and there will be an oral argument on the matter on Oct. 30.