(TNS) — Texas has billions of federal dollars and at least three congressional seats to gain if the 2020 census accurately counts its growing population.
But the shadow of a population undercount looms over the Lone Star State due to privacy concerns among mixed immigration status families and hard-to-count populations not responding to the census. And beyond risking some of Texas’ newfound political strength, an undercount would hurt the state’s fight against poverty for the next decade.
Funding for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Women Infants and Children, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Section 8 housing voucher program is dictated heavily by data derived from the decennial census.
Those programs play a key role in lifting families out of poverty and helping them reach complete independence, said Sara Albert, a public policy expert and leader of the public policy team for the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions.
About 281,000 people live at or below the poverty level in Dallas, according to census data, and about 83% of them are Hispanic or Black.
Albert said Dallas-area nonprofits connect low-income families with fundamental resources like food, medical attention and housing through these programs.
But if the families who need these programs the most aren’t counted in the census, she added, the state won’t get the federally allocated dollars needed to help them.
“The pie is the pie. It is not going to get any bigger but how it gets distributed is dependent on census data,” Albert said.
The federal government annually distributes some $675 billion to states for infrastructure programs and public aid programs.
An analysis from GW Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University found that the federal government distributed some $59.4 billion to Texas for 55 programs in 2016 using 2010 census data:
Medicaid received almost $24 billion.
SNAP got about $5.3 billion.
Section 8 Housing vouchers funding was about $1 billion.
CHIP received about $1.3 billion.
And WIC got about $530 million.
“These are federal dollars that we’re all paying into,” Albert said.
Fear around a proposed question about citizenship has dominated the conversation around the 2020 census. And even though the Supreme Court barred the Trump administration from adding the question, there is some concern an undercount may be inevitable.
Other factors may also contribute to an undercount.
About 1 million Dallas-area residents live in hard to count areas. Young children, low-income families, residents with limited internet access are all at higher risk of not being counted this year.
Once the census numbers are set and done, the federal government’s formulas spit out a number and states get what they get, said Valerie Hawthorne, government relations director for the North Texas Food Bank.
The food bank’s ability to provide nutrition foods to low-income families would be impacted by an undercount because The Emergency Food Assistance Program -- one of its public food sources -- uses census data to distribute supplies.
“Any undercount results in less food coming to us, which then means we have to source food from retail partners and other benefactors,” Hawthorne said. The North Texas Food Bank sources its food supply through partnerships with retailers, the federal government and private donations.
Hawthorne said the push is on among area nonprofits working on food security and nutrition access to make sure that families they work with know that their participation in the 2020 census is crucial.
Families that are considered hard to count are often among those seeking help from the North Texas Food Bank, Hawthorne said, and that’s why it’s crucial that they understand that being counted in the census will only help them in the long run if they use public assistance programs.
“A stable source of food in the household increases educational potential and decreases family stress,” Hawthorne said. “Having stable food access can also cut down on medical costs because nutrition and health go hand in hand.”
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