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Texas Census Advocates Worry Schedule Confusion Could Lead To Undercounting

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There's a really big unknown when it comes to the 2020 census. The unknown is when will the counting officially end? This is because of a legal fight in the federal courts over the Trump administration's schedule for the head count. The confusion is making advocates in some states like Texas really nervous. Here's Ashley Lopez from KUT in Austin.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Katie Martin Lightfoot is with a think tank called Every Texan. She says there's a big risk many Texans won't be counted during this year's census.

KATIE MARTIN LIGHTFOOT: There are still households in the state of Texas who have not responded to the 2020 census. They have not self-responded, nor have they completed the questionnaire via that in-person follow-up.

LOPEZ: Advocates have been scrambling because it's hard to tell how much time is left to count people. The Trump administration has been going back and forth about when to stop counting. A federal court intervened, but things are still up in the air. Lightfoot says it's been confusing.

LIGHTFOOT: We don't know when this is going to end, but we need to really continue to engage our communities.

LOPEZ: Advocates and census workers have the most ground to cover in south Texas, says Lila Valencia with the Texas Demographic Center.

LILA VALENCIA: They're the same areas that have higher concentrations of Hispanics living in more rural conditions. And there's also higher shares of African Americans.

LOPEZ: The census guides how much political representation and federal funding communities get. Valencia says this means communities of color in Texas are at risk of losing voting power and money for programs that address issues like poverty and access to health care.

VALENCIA: Those are disproportionately impacting communities like the Latino community. So if those programs are also underfunded because of a lower count, then those communities will be disproportionately affected as well.

LOPEZ: People of color in Texas make up a majority of the state's population. So if they're undercounted, Katie Martin Lightfoot says it will hurt the state as a whole.

LIGHTFOOT: A conservative estimate is that if we undercount our state's population by 1%, we will lose $300 million per year for the next 10 years.

LOPEZ: Some research shows the state could gain as many as three seats in Congress after the census. But with so many schedule changes, it's hard to say how the count will turn out in the end. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "DECADES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.