Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The Navajo Nation is urging residents to respond on their own to the U.S. census, which ends Sept. 30.
Census workers have a big job to do on the reservation before that deadline, said Arbin Mitchell, Navajo area census office manager.
The Navajo Nation had a 17.6% overall self-response rate to the census as of Monday. The national self-response rate is 64.5%, according to Census Bureau data.
“The COVID pandemic has really impacted us,” Mitchell said during a video update Tuesday.
By February, the office had recruited nearly 4,000 people for census work on the Navajo Nation. But the pandemic slashed that workforce.
The Navajo office trained 565 people and now has 262 people out in the field delivering census packets, Mitchell said.
Workers began delivering forms to the homes of tribal residents in June. About 17,000 households – less than 20% of households on the reservation – have since received census packets.
“We need to get an accurate count, or else we forfeit some of the resources that are supposed to come to the Navajo Nation,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
He challenged residents to boost the self-response rate to above 25%. The self-response rate to the 2010 census was 29.4%.
The Navajo Department of Health reported six new COVID-19 cases and no deaths Tuesday. The reservation has had less than 40 new cases each day since Aug. 1.
More than 45% of the population has been tested for COVID-19. There is a total of 9,573 positive cases. More than 7,000 people have recovered, and 494 people have died.
Last week, Navajo businesses and government offices began reopening. Navajo casinos remain closed.
The Navajo government has $176.4 million remaining from the CARES Act.
One bill to be considered by the Navajo Nation Council would allocate the money to elders and college students, as well as solar projects and housing.
Another bill would create a hardship assistance fund to help residents pay for masks, rent and utility bills during the pandemic.
COVID-19 has challenged the reservation’s public health system. But the relief money spells an “exciting time” for long-awaited water lines and broadband access, said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.
“The eyes of the world are on Navajo,” Lizer said. “We got hit the very hardest. That brings notoriety, it brings attention to (our) problems. The goal is to bring change to our nation.”