Dave McNeely

Dave McNeeley, Austin American Statesman columnist Ralph Barrera/AA-S 8/1/2000

The 2020 federal census count is very important to Texas.

It will determine how congressional districts are re-apportioned among the states — Texas stands to gain three, or four, depending upon how its count compares to other states.

It will also determine how an estimated $900 billion in federal funds per year are dispersed to states for a number of purposes — like health care, transportation projects, housing vouchers, education infrastructure — all of it based on that headcount.

That’s $900 billion per year, for each of the next 10 years — $9 trillion for the decade — that will be apportioned among the states.

An undercount of just one percent in Texas could cost the state $300 million per year for each of the next 10 years, according to a study by George Washington University — money that would be dispersed among other states.

Other states are spending a total of about $350 million — including California’s $187 million — to help insure that as many of their residents are counted as possible.

Texas is one of just five states spending nothing. The other four are Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska and South Dakota. All but Louisiana have Republican governors.

Although several bills were introduced during this year’s Texas legislative session to set up and fund a state complete count committee, all of them failed in the Republican-dominated legislature.

“Complete count committees are extremely effective,” said Albert Fontenot, an associate director at the Census Bureau, according to the Associated Press. “It’s in the states’ interests in that they get a funding flow and congressional seats.”

With Texas government repeating its approach of 2010, of playing no part in encouraging a maximum census count, several cities, and even non-profit groups, are trying to take up the slack.

“Texas has one of the largest risks of an undercount, due to a large number of hard-to-count populations, such as young children, immigrants, rural residents, low-income families and people with disabilities,” Austin Community Foundation CEO Mike Nellis wrote in an article in the Texas Tribune, paid for by ACF.

“Research estimates more than 6 million Texans live in hard-to-count neighborhoods, where self-response rates have been historically low,” Nellis said.

The 2020 census, which is counted beginning April 1, must be submitted to the president by Dec. 31.

“The 2020 Census should be a major concern for nonprofits and foundations throughout the state,” Nellis said.

It is key to their funding decisions, he said. With Texas’s huge growth, “inaccurate data could deprive population groups and communities of vital public and private resources.”

“So much is at stake for Texas businesses and Texas families,” Center for Public Policy Priorities CEO Ann Beeson said at the groups’ press conference.

“Representatives of every major community sector have joined Texas Counts because we know jobs, housing, schools, libraries, roads and more depend on an accurate and complete census count.”

Part of the nervousness that could cause particularly immigrants to fail to be counted is from things like President Donald Trump’s insistence there be a question on the census about citizenship. The Supreme Court blocked that, but some populations are still worried.

The non-profit groups are helpful, they believe, because they have stronger, trusted relationships with communities that provide a counting challenge – like young children, minorities, undocumented people and the homeless.

Dave McNeely is the editorial page editor for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. Contact him at davemcneely111@gmail.com.

“There are folks who aren’t engaged with our big institutions and already living in marginalized places, literally and figuratively,” said Meagan Longley, vice president of community affairs for the Austin Community Foundation.

“That’s why we’ve tasked our nonprofit community, who are in the margins with them,” Longley told the Austin American-Statesman’s “Giving City Austin” column. “We think they would be the most trusted means to take this message forward.”

The Texas Counts campaign anticipates raising more money over the next few months to distribute as grants.

Dave McNeely is the editorial page editor for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.

Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail.com.

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