As a country, we will be filling out the census in less than a month. The results of this decennial census can mean millions in resources and representation in the courts and local government.
Data from the decennial census is used to determine how half a trillion dollars in federal funds will be distributed to state and local governments.
The results of the census will hold the keys to even more federal money – more than $675 billion per year that is distributed through scores of federal programs based in part on census population data.
“If we are undercounting, especially parts of the population that need aid, that becomes a burden on the local city or local geography where there was an undercount, and it means either resources are going to have to come from elsewhere, or people go underserved,” said Myles Shaver, University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “Those are bad things for a community, and bad things for a community often are bad things for businesses,” Shaver said.
Census data are used to fund multiple federal funding streams. In the fiscal year 2015, census data were used to determine the allocation of $675 billion for 132 programs, including Medicaid, SNAP, the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, Head Start, and Highway Planning and Construction.
Federal funds are distributed based on annual population estimates. Census data are used to calculate the rate at which federal funds match state spending on programs including Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The top five programs funded in fiscal year 2015 were: Medicaid ($311 billion); the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP $71 billion); Medicare Part B ($70 billion); Highway Planning and Construction ($38 billion); and the Federal Pell Grant program ($29.9 billion).
Many local governments, and even some private companies, have their own census turnout efforts underway.
The decennial census provides a uniquely comprehensive data source. Its accuracy affects not only political representation but whether adequate funding is disbursed to where it is needed the most in areas ranging from potholes to health insurance to education. The degree to which an inaccurate count will impact state and local finances, particularly an undercount of specific population groups, varies from one location to another depending on their characteristics and the federal programs from which they receive assistance.
For small rural cities that depend on Federal assistance, an accurate Census count is critical to provide the services on which residents depend.
“Every person in America deserves to be counted,” said Census Director Steven Dillingham.
Keep an eye out for your Census and fill it out completely.