The federal government relies on data derived from the decennial census to distribute roughly $1.5 trillion in funds for these programs, along with more than 300 others. The money goes to state and local governments, non-profits, businesses and households across the nation.
That’s why experts are so concerned that the US Census Bureau could end its 2020 count early, which they say will increase the chances of missing many Americans, particularly immigrants, people of color, low-income folks and rural residents. And that, in turn, could reduce federal funding for programs that support them and entire communities.
For instance, had Texas’ population been undercounted by 1% in 2010, the state would have lost nearly $292 million in federal reimbursements for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program in fiscal 2015, Reamer’s research found. Pennsylvania would have received about $222 million less, while Florida would have been sent nearly $178 million less.
Medicare uses geographic data based on the Census to determine how many pharmacies must be in Part D enrollees’ networks and how much to reimburse physicians.
And states utilize Census-based population data to allocate federal highway funding, while federal agencies determine support of disadvantaged youth employment efforts and nutrition programs for women, infants and children based on the share of kids in poverty in a specific area.
Some states and local communities incorporated the importance of the Census count into their outreach, reminding their residents that federal funding for their roads, schools and other programs depends on their filling out the survey.
“It’s a very critical piece of policy and planning and funding,” said Mallory Bateman, state data center coordinator at the University of Utah. “This is our way to show who lives in the state … and get them the funding that they need.”
The census has never been perfect. It typically overcounts White Americans and misses people of color and those living in rural areas, among others. But this year, the problem could be even more extensive, largely because of the shorter deadlines for following up with those who don’t respond and for processing the results, said John Thompson, a former Census Bureau director under the Obama administration.
“Many communities will certainly receive less than their fair share of federal funds,” said Alex Tausanovitch, director, campaign finance and electoral reform at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.