FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Abbie McDonough/Connor Joseph (Heitkamp), (202) 224-8898
Heitkamp Leads Bipartisan Group of Senators in Urging Administration to Recognize & Address Challenges Facing Tribal Areas in 2020 Census
Senators Concerned about Preparations for 2020 Census; in 2017, Census Tests in Indian Country were Cancelled
Heitkamp has Repeatedly Called for Better Reporting and Testing in Tribal Regions, Brought Former U.S. Census Director Thompson to North Dakota in 2014 and in 2016
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today is leading a bipartisan effort requesting information on the Census Bureau’s plan to ensure an accurate and cost-effective 2020 Census count in tribal communities.
In 2017, Census tests across Indian Country were canceled, furthering concerns that Native populations are not being prioritized in preparations for the 2020 Census—even though the unique characteristics that tribal communities present require additional planning and effort to overcome. Native Americans have been historically under-represented in Census data, which then reduces the amount of federal support that tribal communities receive. With accurate measurements, tribes will have access to the necessary federal support for housing programs, job training, social services, and many other programs they are guaranteed under law.
In their letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross— the top administration official overseeing the Census Bureau, Heitkamp and U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) called on the administration to recognize the realities of tribal areas and to develop a plan that will ensure Native communities are accurately measured during the 2020 Census. to read the full letter.
“Our tribal residents shouldn’t have to worry about the Census Bureau drastically undercounting their rela`tives and neighbors, simply because of where they choose to live,” said Heitkamp. “As the 2020 Census approaches, the agency must take steps to make sure these communities are counted fairly and accurately, so that tribal citizens can receive the federal funds they need to improve public safety, promote access to affordable housing, and provide high-quality education and health care. That’s why we’re pushing to hold the Census Bureau accountable and demand it take the appropriate steps for an accurate Census count in Indian Country. We need to see a well-developed plan that treats all Americans equally in the eyes of the Census—including those living in tribal, rural, or underserved areas.”
Heitkamp has long stressed the importance of the Census and tribes working together to break down barriers for people living on tribal lands in North Dakota and around the country, and to make sure Native populations are appropriately represented at all levels of government. At Heitkamp’s urging, about the importance of accurate population counts and how Census data is used to distribute federal, tribal, state, and local government funds. Thompson returned to the state in February 2016 to participate in the Tribal Consultation Meeting held at Sitting Bull College.
“Census data is incredibly significant to American Indians and Alaska Natives as it is used by Tribes and Tribal Organizations to make informed decisions about the future of their people. This information helps ensure fair allocations of funding for federal programs that are vital to Native communities, including housing, healthcare, and education. Unfortunately, due to their remote nature, language barriers, lack of access to telephones and internet, and often non-tradition mailing addresses, getting accurate Census data in rural Alaska and throughout Indian Country is no simple task,” said Murkowski. “With 92,000 Alaska Natives living in ‘hard to count’ communities, I urge my colleagues to consider the negative impacts that an undercount can have on rural Alaska and Indian Country as we are preparing for the 2020 Census.”
“An accurate census count is vital to the health and wellbeing of Native American communities. In 2010, we saw that Native American communities were undercounted by nearly five percent,” said Klobuchar. “If we fail to get an accurate count in 2020, it will hurt their ability to have access to healthcare, education, and fair representation in Congress.”
In their letter, the senators also pointed to the Census Bureau’s move away from paper questionnaires to an internet-based data collection method. While the senators praised these efforts, they expressed concerns that this transition may leave Native communities behind, since they are often located in remote areas without reliable internet or cellular service. According to the Census Bureau’s data, of American Indians and Alaska Natives regularly use the internet.
Shortly after the U.S. Census Bureau’s announcement in April 2016 that it would conduct a Census Test on the Standing Rock Reservation— one of just two tests nationwide in Indian Country in 2017 in preparation for the 2020 Census— the test was canceled, leaving a gaping hole in the federal government’s preparations to address challenges of an accurate Census count on reservations and in the region.
As a leader on the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), which oversees the Census, Heitkamp has fought to make sure the Census works for North Dakota. In October 2017, on the many challenges the 2020 Census faces, including testing and reporting in rural and tribal areas. During a HSGAC hearing, Heitkamp drew the attention of Secretary Ross, as well as leaders from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Government Accountability Office, to the recently canceled Census tests in Indian Country.
Heitkamp also sits on the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, where she has fought to guarantee Indian communities have access to quality homes, schools, and health care.
A national Census takes place every 10 years. The data gathered through the Census informs the levels of federal funding that North Dakota and other states receive for transportation infrastructure, education, medical assistance, and many other essential programs. According to 2014 Census data, at the height of the oil boom North Dakota was the fastest-growing state in the United States. Heitkamp has advocated that all communities are counted accurately by also drawing attention to the enormous population growth in western North Dakota.