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Census changes shortchange Minnesota

To the editor:

The Trump administration’s abrupt decision to cut a month of data collection from the 2020 census threatens to leave states like Minnesota out in the cold.

In normal census years, rural areas are among those most difficult to count. But this year’s numbers are more alarming than usual. As it stands, less than half of rural households have responded so far. Only 9 percent of metro counties nationwide have a response rate so low.

All but 13 of Minnesota’s 87 counties have rural areas — putting our state at serious risk for undercounting if the president’s arbitrary act is allowed to stand. The real-world consequences of such an event are no small thing.

The state estimates that Minnesota receives more than $15.5 billion in federal funding, based on the census count. We use that money to invest in such things as education, health care, and fire departments. How much we receive for roads and other transit projects also is tied to the census.

An undercount further threatens the number of representatives we have in Washington. Census data are used to determine how many seats each state receives in the 435-member House of Representatives. Minnesota lost one seat after the 1960 census — and now sits on the cusp of losing another. That outcome is more likely if our rural areas go undercounted.

Federal law requires that the Census Bureau send population totals to the president by Dec. 31 of each census year. The coronavirus pandemic forced census officials to extend that deadline to April 2021 — a timeframe passed by the House of Representatives in May. The Senate had yet to vote on the measure when census officials abruptly reversed themselves on Monday at the president’s behest.

Data collectors were set to go door-to-door starting this month to ensure a quality count in hard-to-reach areas, including rural counties. The president’s actions will upend that work, resulting in skewed numbers from such places, not a reliable count.

The census occurs only once every 10 years, so we’ll all have to live with these results for the coming decade. With so much riding on them, it’s more important that the census gets done right than get done right now.

President Trump’s abrupt and arbitrary cutoff is bad for Minnesota — and our nation. Congress should step in to stop this.

Niel Ritchie

Minneapolis

— Neil Ritchie is chief executive officer of the Main Street Project

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