The 2020 Census is still two years away, but city of Flagstaff and Coconino County leaders are already committing up to $300,000 in local dollars and dedicating staff time to preparing for the once-a-decade population count.
The reason, in part, is because the characteristics of people living in both the city and the county make them more likely to be missed during the count process. With everything from federal program funding to congressional representation dependent on census data, “making sure we’re maximizing our count is absolutely important,” said Kim Musselman, the county’s local census coordinator.
University students are one of the populations that tend to be undercounted because they aren’t as likely to understand the importance of answering the census and completing it in the place they are living at the time, which is Flagstaff, Musselman said.
Renters are also more difficult to accurately count, Musselman said, and Flagstaff has the highest percentage of renters at 41 percent of any large Arizona city, according to a report released last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Arizona Housing Coalition.
Additionally, the area’s high housing costs often require more people to squeeze into a house than a lease allows, so when the census form comes around, residents may not be inclined to record everyone in the house even though the data collected is confidential, Musselman.
The higher percentage of minorities living in the county -- about 45 percent of residents in Coconino County are nonwhite -- and the large geographic area with remote rural communities makes it harder to get an accurate count as well, Musselman said. Specific challenges related to minorities include language difficulties, mistrust of the government and concerns about immigration enforcement, she said.
The proposed addition of a citizenship question could reduce response rates as well, she said.
The fear of an undercount isn’t unfounded. In the 2000 census, Coconino County’s population was underestimated by about 3,000 people in part because of difficulties counting NAU students, Musselman said.
And, according to a map of predicted response rates to mailed census forms, a large swath of western Coconino County as well as central Flagstaff where NAU is located have a projected non-response rate of between 30 percent and 58 percent
Another reason for the city and county to put up $300,000 for local census efforts is because the federal government is no longer providing funding for education, advertising and response assistance like it did in years past, Musselman said.
The Trump Administration has set a goal for the 2020 census to be conducted at a lower cost-per-household than the 2010 census (when adjusted for inflation), and that means cost-cutting in areas like local outreach as well as a nationwide reduction in local offices that train and deploy census fieldworkers. Flagstaff learned the city will keep its field office but it will be the only one in northern Arizona.
The government also hopes to reduce expenses by directing people to respond to the census questionnaire online or over the phone, instead of filling out paper forms. Depending on the rate of those online responses, it could be the first time a majority of Americans submit responses over the internet, according to the Pew Research Center. Canvassers will still go door to door for non-responders, said Fred Stevens, who works as a tribal partnership specialist with the Census.
The county isn’t overly concerned about the switch to an online format, though that could pose challenges for people in rural areas without good phone and internet service, Musselman said. The county plans to identify those areas with poor connectivity and set up central locations with computers and phones where people can complete the census questionnaire, she said.
Last year, Arizona received an average of almost $2,000 per person in federal funding that was based on census data, Musselman reported to the Flagstaff City Council and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors last month. That money went to everything from transportation to education to support services for senior and low-income households.
Census responses will be collected March through July, 2020.
McALLEN, Texas — The U.S. government wrestled with the ramifications Thursday of President Donald Trump's move to stop separating families at the border, with no clear plan to reunite the more than 2,300 children already taken from their parents and Congress again failing to take action on immigration reform.
In a day of confusion and conflicting reports, the Trump administration began drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases. But officials gave differing accounts as to whether those beds would be for children or for entire families. The Justice Department also went to court in an attempt to overturn a decades-old settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time migrant children can be locked up with their families.
A senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Thursday about 500 of the children separated from their families at the border have been reunited since May.
Meanwhile, the federal public defender's office for the region that covers cases from El Paso to San Antonio said Thursday the U.S. Attorney's Office would be dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering or re-entering the country and were subsequently separated from their children.
"Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them," wrote Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, in an email shown to The Associated Press.
And in the Texas border city of McAllen, federal prosecutors unexpectedly did not pursue charges against 17 immigrants. A federal prosecutor said "there was no prosecution sought" in light of Trump's executive order ending the practice of separating families.
It was unclear whether that and the email meant the Trump administration was dropping its months-old "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting all adults caught trying to enter the country illegally.
The president did not answer the question directly but showed no sign of softening.
"We have to be very, very strong on the border. If we don't do it, you will be inundated with people and you really won't have a country," Trump said.
The uncertainty resulted from the abrupt ending Wednesday of a White House policy that separated more than 2,300 children from their parents over the past several weeks. The practice set off an outcry from all corners of the world, with the images and sounds of crying children dominating the news.
After Trump's executive order, a host of unanswered questions remained, including what will happen to the children already separated from their parents and where the government will house all the newly detained migrants, with the system already bursting at the seams.
Officials from the Defense Department and Health and Human Services said the Pentagon has agreed to provide space on military bases to hold up to 20,000 people detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border.
It was unclear which bases would be used. But HHS has assessed four as prospective housing for children: Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.
The Justice Department asked a federal judge to change the rules regarding the detention of immigrant children, seeking permission to detain them for longer than the permitted 20 days in an effort to keep them together with their parents.
Meanwhile, the mayors of about 20 U.S. cities gathered at a holding facility for immigrant children in the border city of El Paso. They accused Trump of failing to address a crisis of his own making.
They called for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families.
In Washington, the House killed a hard-right immigration bill Thursday and Republican leaders delayed a planned vote on a compromise GOP package, with party members fiercely divided on the issue. Democrats oppose both measures.
The rejected bill would have curbed legal immigration and bolstered border security but would not have granted a pathway to citizenship to "Dreamers" who arrived in the country illegally as children.
The delayed vote was on a compromise bill between GOP moderates and conservatives that would offer Dreamers a pathway to citizenship and provide $25 billion for Trump's border wall, among other things.
Meanwhile, Melania Trump made an unannounced visit to a McAllen, Texas facility Thursday, talking with children and staff as she got a first-hand look at some of the migrant children sent there by the U.S. government after their families entered the country illegally.
The visit to Upbring New Hope Children's Center, which houses 55 children, was intended to lend support to those children who remain separated from their parents, said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's spokeswoman.
Third-graders at the facility welcomed the first lady with a large paper American flag they'd signed taped to a wall. With the words, "Welcome! First Lady" written in black marker across the red and white bars, Mrs. Trump also signed the flag, which the children gave to her.
In a written statement, the first lady called on Congress to work together on immigration legislation that would benefit the children.
An autopsy shows a Northern Arizona University student whose body was found in a campus housing complex three months ago died by suicide.
According to toxicology results released Thursday by the Coconino County Medical Examiner's Office, 21-year-old Joseph Michael Bock had marijuana and methamphetamine in his system when died.
Authorities told the Arizona Republic that Bock had struggled with depression and substance abuse and there was no evidence that another person was involved in the death.
The body was found March 21 while staff at the Hilltop Townhomes was conducting routine inspections of the apartments during Spring Break.
NAU Police originally called it "an unattended death" and investigated the case in conjunction with Flagstaff police and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
According to a report from the NAU Police Department, Bock was found lying face down and partially on his side. Another officer described Bock has having injuries to his stomach. Officers described finding a significant amount of blood throughout the apartment, but there were no signs of forced entry or blood outside of the apartment. The apartment was locked from the inside and the last key fob record showed that Bock was the last person to enter the apartment around 5:30 p.m. on March 20. The next person to key into the apartment were the two employees doing the inspection at around 1 p.m. March 21.
Officers spoke with a third Hilltop Townhome employee, who said he had talked with Bock between 8 and 8:30 p.m. on March 20 about a package that Bock was expecting.
Officers also spoke with a person who worked with Bock at a rehabilitation facility. She said she had received information from two other people she knew from working at the rehabilitation facility that Bock may have been partying and using drugs with another person around 1 a.m. on March 21.
The woman said that Bock had never exhibited any suicidal tendencies or attempted to hurt himself around her. However, he had exhibited aggression toward others in the past.
According to the NAU PD report, Bock had allegedly threatened a previous roommate with a knife in February. Bock was moved from that apartment in order to avoid further conflict and into the one in which he was found.
Officers had requested the cellphone logs of at least seven people whose names were redacted. They collected clothing from two other people.
WASHINGTON (AP) — States will be able to force more people to pay sales tax when they make online purchases under a Supreme Court decision Thursday that will leave shoppers with lighter wallets but is a big financial win for states.
Consumers can expect to see sales tax charged on more online purchases — likely over the next year and potentially before the Christmas shopping season — as states and retailers react to the court's decision, said one attorney involved in the case.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 opinion Thursday overruled a pair of decades-old decisions that states said cost them billions of dollars in lost revenue annually. The decisions made it more difficult for states to collect sales tax on certain online purchases, and more than 40 states had asked the high court for action. Five states don't charge sales tax.
The cases the court overturned said that if a business was shipping a customer's purchase to a state where the business didn't have a physical presence such as a warehouse or office, the business didn't have to collect sales tax for the state. Customers were generally responsible for paying the sales tax to the state themselves if they weren't charged it, but most didn't realize they owed it and few paid.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the previous decisions were flawed.
"Each year the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States," he wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Kennedy wrote that the rule "limited States' ability to seek long-term prosperity and has prevented market participants from competing on an even playing field."
The ruling is a victory for big chains with a presence in many states, since they usually collect sales tax on online purchases already. Now, rivals will be charging sales tax where they hadn't before.
Big chains have been collecting sales tax nationwide because they typically have physical stores in whatever state a purchase is being shipped to. Amazon.com, with its network of warehouses, also collects sales tax in every state that charges it, though third-party sellers who use the site don't have to.
Until now, many sellers that have a physical presence in only a single state or a few states have been able to avoid charging sales taxes when they ship to addresses outside those states. Online sellers that haven't been charging sales tax on goods shipped to every state range from jewelry website Blue Nile to pet products site Chewy.com to clothing retailer L.L. Bean.
Sellers that use eBay and Etsy, which provide platforms for smaller sellers, also haven't been collecting sales tax nationwide.
Under the ruling Thursday, states can pass laws requiring out-of-state sellers to collect the state's sales tax from customers and send it to the state. More than a dozen states have already adopted laws like that ahead of the court's decision, according to state tax policy expert Joseph Crosby.
Retail trade groups praised the ruling, saying it levels the playing field for local and online businesses. The losers, said retail analyst Neil Saunders, are online-only retailers, especially smaller ones. Those retailers may face headaches complying with various state sales tax laws, though there are software options to help. That software, too, can be an added cost. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council advocacy group said in a statement, "Small businesses and internet entrepreneurs are not well served at all by this decision."
Chief Justice John Roberts and three of his colleagues would have kept the court's previous decisions in place.
"E-commerce has grown into a significant and vibrant part of our national economy against the backdrop of established rules, including the physical-presence rule. Any alteration to those rules with the potential to disrupt the development of such a critical segment of the economy should be undertaken by Congress," Roberts wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. The lineup of justices on each side of the case was unusual, with Roberts joining three more liberal justices and Ginsburg joining her more conservative colleagues.
The case the court ruled on involved a 2016 law passed by South Dakota, which said it was losing out on an estimated $50 million a year in sales tax not collected by out-of-state sellers. Lawmakers in the state, which has no income tax, passed a law designed to directly challenge the physical presence rule. The law requires out-of-state sellers who do more than $100,000 of business in the state or more than 200 transactions annually with state residents to collect sales tax and send it to the state.
South Dakota wanted out-of-state retailers to begin collecting the tax and sued several of them: Overstock.com, electronics retailer Newegg and home goods company Wayfair. After the Supreme Court's decision was announced, shares in Wayfair and Overstock both fell. Shares in large chains with more stores traded higher.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard called Thursday's decision a "Great Day for South Dakota," though the high court stopped short of greenlighting the state's law. While the Supreme Court spoke approvingly of the law, it sent it back to South Dakota's highest court to be revisited in light of the court's decision.
The Trump administration had urged the justices to side with South Dakota. On Twitter, President Donald Trump called the decision a "Big victory for fairness and for our country." He also called it a "Great victory for consumers and retailers," though consumers will ultimately be paying more and businesses weren't uniformly cheering the decision.
The case is South Dakota v. Wayfair, 17-494.
Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
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