Census Bureau’s texts, emails seeking responses on COVID-19’s effects are real

Capitol News Bureau

This April 5, 2020, photo shows a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. The U.S. Census Bureau needs more time to wrap up the once-a-decade count because of the coronavirus, opening the possibility of delays in drawing new legislative districts that could help determine what political party is in power, what laws pass or fail and whether communities of color get a voice in their states. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — If you’ve received an invitation on your mobile phone or computer asking you to participate in a U.S. Census Bureau survey about COVID-19, the request could be real — or not.

It’s a legitimate worry in this era of phishing and hacking. Other government agencies — law enforcement, for example — emphasize they don’t contact citizens on the phone, while others, such as the Social Security Administration, routinely use the internet to communicate with recipients.

For the Census Bureau’s messages, a way to check is to look at the sender.

According to a page on the bureau’s website about the second phase of the Household Pulse Survey, the email will be from COVID.survey@census.gov or the text message will be from 39242.

The Census Bureau says addresses of recipients were chosen randomly for the 20-minute survey.

“In order to support the nation’s recovery, we need to know the ways this pandemic has affected people’s lives and livelihoods. Data from this survey will show the widespread effects of COVID-19 on individuals, families, and communities across the country,” the bureau says.

The statement continues, “Your participation will help federal and state officials direct aid, assistance, and support to the people and places that need it most. This survey provides information that cannot be collected elsewhere. Your response is key.”

A Census Bureau public information person answered KELOLAND News questions on background. Asked how many inquiries are sent each week, she said the number varies. “Range was from 980K to 1.9M invitations weekly in Phase 1,” she said.

As for the participation rate, she said it was 8 to 10%. Here are other questions the spokesperson answered on background.

So how does the Census Bureau know where to send the invitations? “Addresses were sampled from the Census Bureau’s Master Address File (MAF), and matched to email addresses and cell telephone numbers available in the Census Bureau Contact Frame, which includes email addresses and phone numbers from commercial sources, surveys and administrative data,” she said.

Are the inquiries conducted on a rolling basis? For example, after a person has answered, should the person expect another text? And if the person hadn’t answered, would that person receive another text? She answered, “Repeated invitations are sent during the collection window until a response is received, there could be slight overlap as invitations get sent out as responses come in. Repeated invitations could occur because a number/email was selected for a future cycle, but we make every effort to reduce the likelihood that households are selected again.”\

Is the information shared with federal agencies, members of Congress and/or state governments? She answered, “Census is collecting these data with several partner agencies, however, those agencies only have access to the privacy protected public use data without identifiers.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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