Key Takeaways from CAF's Countdown to Census 2020 Program

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This week, Colorado Association of Funders convened local funders to discuss the upcoming census and philanthropy’s role in promoting a fair and accurate count. Four speakers shared what’s at stake nationally and in Colorado–touching on implications for both rural and urban areas—and offered resources and suggestions for attendees looking to get involved.

The census determines apportionment and redistricting for congress, state legislatures, city councils, and school boards; and over $800 billion in federal aid flows to states and localities based on census-derived data. “You know what you know and do what you do because of the census,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant for the Funders Census Initiative. “That’s why you should care that the Census Bureau gets it right.”

Lowenthal noted the census doesn’t count all population groups equally well. “Hard to count groups” include:

  • People of color (especially men, ages 18−49)
  • American Indians on reservations
  • Low income households (renters), urban & rural
  • Young children (ages 0−4), especially African American & Latino children
  • Limited English Proficiency and foreign-born households
  • Single, female-headed households
  • Frequent movers (including military families and young adults)

Lowenthal listed factors such as insufficient and delayed annual funding, canceled tests and scaled-back dry runs, cyber-security threats, and untested questions, all of which put a fair and accurate 2020 census at risk.

Patrick Potyondy is a Legislative Policy Specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides non-partisan research and analysis to legislators and legislative staff. Potyondy provided additional figures to demonstrate the financial implications of an undercount. In financial year 2015, a 1% undercount from the 2010 Census resulted in $63 million in lost funds to five Federal Medical Assistance Percentage programs (Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Title IV-E Foster Care, Title IV-E Adoption Assistance, and the Child Care and Development Fund). That’s at least $1,262 in lost funding per person.

Potyondy offered links to maps and reports with additional data and information:

Counting for Dollars 2020: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funders (Andrew Reamer – The George Washington University of Public Policy)
The Census Bureau Response Outreach Mapper (ROAM)
Colorado’s State Data Center Program information

As the executive director of Together We Count, Rosemary Rodriguez forecasts participatory challenges for the 2020 census to make recommendations to stakeholders.  Rodriguez commented on the climate of fear produced by the addition of the citizenship question, noting the Census Bureau’s own panel of experts recommended against including it. She identified where hard to count groups are located in Colorado, based on 2014 Census Track Data.

“Without education, without outreach, and without thoughtful consideration, we’re going to miss a huge percentage of population,” Rodriguez said. She also noted that access to broadband will be an issue, since for the first time, the census will be primarily internet-based.

To conclude the program, Maggie Osborn, Senior Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer at United Philanthropy Forum, shared resources and strategies funders in other states are using. Funders can:

Join FCCP’s Funders Census Initiative (FCI)
Spread the word – talk to funder colleagues and grantees about the census to raise awareness
Provide money and training for grantees who are trusted partners in their communities to be a voice and a hub for census efforts
Consider pooled funding for joint training and communications

Investing in the census is “smart money,” said Osborn. By promoting an accurate census count, philanthropy can help ensure a fair distribution of federal funds. She reminded attendees of the statistic Potyondy shared. “Do you have $1,200 to make up for every miscount?” she asked.

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