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Census Bureau to restart operations in rural areas of country

Field operations for the 2020 count had been suspended through early June

The pandemic has thrown off this year's timetable for the Census Bureau.
The pandemic has thrown off this year's timetable for the Census Bureau. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After suspending most of its operations in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau announced Monday it plans to restart some of its fieldwork in rural areas around the country.

Those operations had been delayed through early June, but agency officials said employees would start to hand-deliver invitations to complete the census to homes later this week in parts of 13 states: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

The Census Bureau does not mail invitations to areas that have post office boxes instead of street addresses. Many rural areas also do not have internet access that can be used to respond to the census.

In Monday’s announcement, the agency said that field staff would receive “safety training to observe social distancing protocols” and personal protective equipment.

The agency will open about two dozen offices around the country that fall under the “Update/Leave” category of hand delivery. The announcement does not cover Puerto Rico, where operations have also stalled amid the pandemic.  

Al Fontenot, the director of the agency’s decennial programs, had previously said the agency may start to phase-in operations throughout the country depending on local conditions.

The Census Bureau said it will spin up both mail delivery and hiring in those local offices, making decisions about each local office on an individual basis going forward.

Response rates in rural areas of the country have lagged behind the national rate, which currently stands at more than 56 percent, over the past two months.

Last month, the Census Bureau said it would pause most operations until at least the start of June. The agency also requested a 120-day deadline extension from Congress, which has not yet been acted on.

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