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The deadline to complete the census is weeks away, but many people haven't responded


Hannah Grover   | Farmington Daily Times
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AZTEC — New Mexico is poised to lose billions of dollars in federal funding if more people don’t fill out the U.S. Census.

During a press conference, Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, said food stamps, housing assistance and small business loans all rely on a complete census count. If even one person doesn’t fill out the census, the state will lose $3,000 a year for the next three years. And New Mexico has one of the lowest response rates.

“We will lose billions if our participation doesn’t drastically turn around,” he said.

Udall joined the rest of the Congressional delegation and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on a press conference last week to discuss the importance of the Census.

“I wish that the picture of the census in New Mexico looked better than it does,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM.

As of Sept. 14, the census has had a 56.6% response rate in New Mexico. That means of that 56.6% of people contacted and invited to participate have filled out the census. This is slightly lower than the response rate in 2010, when 60% of censuses were returned, according to the United States 2020 Census website.

Nationwide, the response rate is 65.7%.

In San Juan County, that rate is even lower than the state response rate — 48.8%.

Incorporated areas tend to have higher response rates than rural areas and the Navajo Nation trails behind the rest of the county in part because there is a different method for collecting census responses on tribal lands.

Farmington’s response rate is 63.1%, with the eastern part of the city leading and the southeastern tract along U.S. Highway 64 trailing. Meanwhile, Aztec has a 59.3% response rate and Bloomfield has a 54.9% response rate.

More: Three airports in San Juan County received federal funding for runway improvements

Heinrich said getting a complete census count was going to be a challenge even if the COVID-19 pandemic had not hit the state. But the pandemic made it even more challenging.

Because of the unique challenges this year, the census deadline was moved from April 1 to the end of October. But Heinrich said it has since been bumped back to Sept. 30, which has increased his concerns that an undercount could occur.

“Taking 10 minutes to complete the census will make a difference for the next 10 years,” Udall said  

More: San Juan County and city governments apply for funding to assist small businesses

Earlier this year, San Juan County partnered with Rubia's in Aztec to encourage people to fill out the census. The restaurant offered free chips and salsa to people who brought in proof that they had completed it.

Devin Neeley, who heads up the complete count effort in San Juan County, said large events to help people complete the census won't happen because of the ban on mass gatherings to prevent spreading COVID-19. Neeley said the effort is focused on saturating the media with the message that people should complete the census. This includes radio ads. 

The census can be completed online at mycensus2020.gov or by calling 844-330-2020. Spanish speakers can call 844-468-2020 to complete it in Spanish. Information about completing the census in the Diné language is available at mycensus2020.gov/nv.html.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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