Texas loses more than $2,300 per year for every person who doesn’t get counted in the U.S. Census, according to a recent study by George Washington University.
With stakes in the billions for the once-in-a-decade event, Houston and Harris County officials Monday announced a vigorous joint effort to get an accurate headcount of every person in the region. The “Yes! To Census 2020” campaign, fueled by $4 million in county funds and $2 million from the city, includes outreach through community groups, key influencers and public art along with real-time data collection on responses from historically undercounted communities so that outreach workers can be deployed strategically.
Census forms will be mailed on March 12 and participants may respond online for the first time, or complete the form in writing or by phone, with assistance available in multiple languages. For those who don’t respond, the Census will send out enumerators later this year to attempt door-to-door data collection in some portions of the country, but many people will be missed, Census officials say.
The Constitution requires that every person, regardless of age or status, be counted every 10 years, but making that count accurately reflect the population — especially in hard-to-reach communities — demands a great deal of legwork.
Unlike in other populous states like California, which set aside $154 million for its complete count committee, Texas officials failed to approve state funding for grassroots outreach. So city and county officials joined forces to secure resources for education, roads and health insurance and to determine the breadth of the region’s political representation in Washington, as the Census is used to determine U.S. House Districts. Experts tracking population growth said Texas stands to gain three or more new seats.
Texas’ biggest counties and cities, including Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, are shouldering that burden on their own, officials said during a launch event at the Children’s Museum Monday.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that folks participate, said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. She called Census 2020 a crucial moment “to live up to that right that we have…to be counted.”
Amid heightened tensions for immigrants under the Trump administration, Hidalgo made an impassioned plea, in the Spanish version of her remarks, to prospective participants to set aside any fears about filling out the form.
“The Census is very safe, I want to make that very clear, that under penalty of prison or fine, nobody can share your personal information from the Census — not ICE, the FBI, no organization or federal agency can access your personal information about the Census,” she said in Spanish.
Margaret Wallace Brown, planning director for the City of Houston, touted Census participation as the most important civic duty, and said the nine-question form is quick and “so easy.”
Council Member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz tried out a little “take the Census” jingle she said she’d been working on, and then turned serious about what is at stake.
“If we don’t get it done right now we have 10 more years that we have to deal with being under-reourced,” Evans-Shabazz said. “We all want police protection. We all want our potholes fixed.”
In all, the federal government sends about $60 billion to Texas tied to Census figures, according to an estimate by Harris County officials.
The George Washington Institute of Public Policy estimated that even a 1 percent undercount could mean Texas leaves nearly $300 million in federal funding on the table — more than any other state.
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