WESLACO, Texas – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has been asked by Rio Grande Valley leaders to help get the self-response deadline for Census 2020 pushed back from Sept. 30 to either Oct. 31, or even the end of the year. 

The census dominated the thoughts of those tuned in to a webinar Cruz participated on Tuesday of this week. It was hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and moderated by the group’s president, Sergio Contreras.

“We had an overwhelming number of people calling on the census deadline to be extended,” Contreras told The Rio Grande Guardian. “It is critical for our area to get a full and accurate count. We have been hit by COVID-19 so dramatically and drastically, making it harder to get an accurate count.”

After the webinar had ended, Cruz stayed on the line to hear privately from Valley elected officials. One of these was Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño. Asked by a reporter Thursday if Cruz had offered any hope of the self-response deadline being extended, Treviño said:

“What Senator Cruz told me was that he agreed that we needed to have everybody counted and his staff got with me today and they are trying to set up another virtual meeting with the congressional delegation and with Senator Cornyn so that way we can address that and hopefully get a firm commitment and their continued assistance in the hope that we can extend the deadline, either back to October or maybe even all the way to the end of the year. That would really be the best thing to do.”

The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the national self-response rate is 65.2 percent. The rate for Texas is 60.6 percent. Valley counties are lagging behind the state average. Hidalgo County’s self-response rate is 51.7 percent. Cameron County is at 49.7 percent. Starr County is at 45.7 percent. And Willacy County is at 40.7 percent.

Previously, the Census Bureau said the deadline for self-responding would be Oct. 31. The agency then moved it forward to Sept. 30. On the RGVP webinar, Cruz said he did not know whether the deadline could be moved back to October. 

“I don’t know the latest status of the back and forth. Obviously, the census is a critically important responsibility of the federal government given by the constitution every ten years. And a great deal of how we govern ourselves depends upon that census being a fair and accurate count,” Cruz said.

“Whether it is representation in Congress, whether it is federal funding, whether it is policy making and decision making generally, having a fair and accurate count is critically important.”

The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Cruz said that because of the coronavirus, the Census Bureau has had a tough time getting an accurate count.

“I know it has been a challenge for the Commerce Department to conduct the census in the time of COVID. There were obviously months where everyone was sheltering at home, including census workers. There were obvious and real logistical challenges in carrying out the census,” Cruz said.

“My understanding is that they are endeavoring to move forward and complete it as rapidly as reasonably possible while still being fair and accurate. But as for the latest status and where the date is, I don’t know. I can have my team follow up with you on that but I don’t know the exact status in terms of their completion time.”

Mike Blum is partner and managing broker of NAI Rio Grande Valley. He was on the webinar with Cruz.

“Futuro RGV, the cities and counties and other individuals like me have a grave concern about the decision to shorten the time to obtain a complete census count. It is going to have a huge impact nationally and even more in South Texas,” Blum said, in a recent guest column in The Rio Grande Guardian.

“If the Census Bureau is not compelled to extend the time to complete the count, the Rio Grande Valley will lose billions of dollars during the next decade and may lose even more in political power. This is just not good for anyone.” 

Blum pointed out the Valley remains in the middle of a pandemic.  

“Putting census workers on the street to canvas predominantly low income minority neighborhood during the next 30 days of September is cruel and ripe with political insensitivity,” Blum said.

“This is wrong. It does not need to be that way. If the virus is going to miraculously dissipate, then let the census count be extended to the end of 2020.”

Futuro RGV is a nonpartisan community group. Its president, Nedra Kinerk, said she agreed with Blum.

“I am not optimistic but still believe that the effort must be made to try to get the 2020 census data collection extended,” Kinerk said.

She said an undercount would mean the loss of tens of millions of dollars for the Valley.

“People do not realize the tremendous loss of funding for the RGV for much needed programs.”

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