Census test rouses critics

PROVIDENCE (AP) — The success of the 2020 census, which will be the first to include an online survey, could hinge on a single “dress rehearsal” underway right now in Rhode Island — and so far, many locals aren’t impressed.

Providence County, the state’s most populous, is the only place where the Census Bureau is running a full test, after plans to test two other sites this year were canceled because of a lack of funding from Congress. A planned question about citizenship that has states suing the federal government isn’t on the test.

Several elected officials and leaders of advocacy and community groups this week held an “emergency press conference” to raise concerns, which include a shortage of publicity around the test and its limited language outreach in an immigrant-heavy county, with large communities from countries including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Portugal and Cape Verde.

“If we don’t get it right here, then the country’s not going to get it right,” Democratic Lt. Gov. Dan McKee warned.

The concerns in Rhode Island are the latest evidence of mounting apprehension over the 2020 census. Seventeen states and six cities, including Rhode Island and its largest city, Providence, sued the federal government on Tuesday to block a question the administration of Republican President Donald Trump announced last month it would ask about citizenship.

The 2020 census will be the first to give respondents the option of answering online.

Census Bureau officials say that the Rhode Island test is on track, and that they’re focused on ensuring new technology works, including a smartphone app being used by canvassers and cloud computing.

“There’s things that aren’t exactly the way they need to be. But we’re learning that; we’re making the changes on the fly,” said Jeff Behler, a regional Census Bureau director who is overseeing the test.

“We’re getting some very critical information about changes that we need to make. And we have time to do that.”

In the test, which began March 16, 280,000 homes in Providence County are receiving snail-mail letters that direct residents to a survey website or toll-free phone number.

There, they can complete the survey, which includes questions including about age, race and ethnicity.