Heitkamp, Murkowski, Klobuchar Urge Administration to Recognize & Address Challenges Facing Tribal & Rural Areas in 2020 Census

Bipartisan Group of Senators Concerned About Preparations for 2020 Census and Unforeseen Impacts on Tribal Communities; In 2017, Census Tests in Indian Country were Cancelled

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) recently requested 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, the bipartisan group of senators 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. Click here to read the full letter.

“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.”

“Our tribal residents shouldn’t have to worry about the Census Bureau drastically undercounting their relatives 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.”

“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, only 58.2 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives regularly use the internet.