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Monday May 17th, 2021 9:21PM

Despite judge's order, plans being made for census layoffs

By The Associated Press
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Even though a federal judge ordered the U.S. Census Bureau to halt winding down the 2020 census for the time being, supervisors in at least one California office have been instructed to make plans for laying off census takers, according to an email obtained by The Associated Press.

The email sent Wednesday from a field manager in California instructs supervisors to rate the census takers working under them with letters “A," “B," and “C." Those getting a “C" rating will be the first terminated during the next round of layoffs, according to the email which doesn't say when the cuts will take place.

Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook said no directive to make such ratings has been made from headquarters or the six regional offices across the county. Census officials planned to follow up with the local offices to make sure they understood the correct procedures, he said.

“This is not something we are directing people to do," Cook said.

The email was sent out Wednesday, just days after U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, granted a temporary restraining order last weekend to stop the Census Bureau from winding down operations until a court hearing for a preliminary injunction is held Sept. 17.

According to the email, those rated “A” are considered top performers and should be kept until the end of the head count which is at the end of September, for now. Census takers rated “B” are considered “good” and also should be kept, the instructions said.

In response to the judge's temporary restraining order, the Census Bureau said Tuesday it would refrain from laying off census takers who were in phases two or three of the three-phase door knocking operation. The census takers are sent out to homes that have not yet responded to the census on their own online by phone or by mail.

Census takers reach the second phase when at least 60% of households requiring door knockers in their area have either been contacted or four attempts have been made. As originally planned, before the judge's order, once that 60% threshold is met, less productive census takers are laid off and their caseloads are transferred to higher performers so the most experienced census takers can work on the hardest-to-reach households.

The office in which the ratings email was sent to supervisors is in the second phase, so layoffs would not be allowed based on the government's compliance plan.

The once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident helps determine how $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed and how many congressional seats each state gets in a process known as apportionment.

The temporary restraining order was requested by a coalition of cities, counties and civil rights groups that had sued the Census Bureau, demanding it restore its previous plan for finishing the census at the end of October, instead of using a revised plan to end operations at the end of September. The coalition had argued the earlier deadline would cause the Census Bureau to overlook minority communities in the census, leading to an inaccurate count.

But the Census Bureau says it won't be able to make a Dec. 31 deadline for turning in apportionment numbers if the field operations are extended an extra month.

The lawsuit contends the Census Bureau changed the schedule to accommodate a directive from President Donald Trump to exclude people in the country illegally from the numbers used in redrawing congressional districts. The revised plan would have the Census Bureau handing in the apportionment numbers at the end of December, under the control of the Trump administration, no matter who wins the election in November.

More than a half dozen other lawsuits have been filed in tandem across the country, challenging Trump’s memorandum as unconstitutional and an attempt to limit the power of Latinos and immigrants of color during apportionment.

The judge in the San Jose case on Thursday ordered government attorneys to turn over administrative records that explain the Census Bureau's decision-making behind the changed plans. The order by Koh covers documents from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the Census Bureau, Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham and associate director Al Fontenot.

“It’s a pretty sweeping order that should shine a light on what informed and drove the government actions here,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups involved with the San Jose lawsuit.

Separately, the watchdog agency for the Census Bureau said it had received dozens of hotline complaints from census workers at 26 locations about violations of coronavirus safety protocols. The complaints included workers not quarantining if they had tested positive for the coronavirus, failure to wear face masks, not socially distancing, offices not being properly cleaned and personal protective equipment not being provided, according to the Office of Inspector General.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP.

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