By Tim Henderson

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order to create a commission to encourage participation in the 2020 census.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, warned that even a 1% undercount would cost the state $780 million in federal funds over 10 years. Almost half the state’s 2.1 million residents live in areas considered hard to count, according to a City University of New York study.

U.S. Census Bureau workers will do the actual counting next year, but states can help locate residents with new addresses, and encourage people who might be reluctant to participate.

About 300 federal programs use census data to distribute more than $800 billion a year, according to a 2018 report by the Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University. Medicaid, food stamps, highway construction money and school lunches all depend on the count.

New Mexico’s 40-member Complete Count Commission will have $3.5 million to encourage participation. As in other states, the commission will mostly be contracting with advocates and other trusted messengers to reach hard-to-count populations like Native Americans and Hispanic residents in rural areas.

Hard-to-count areas in New Mexico include Navajo reservations and shantytowns on the Mexican border known as colonias.

The commission, which includes Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, will make quarterly progress reports starting in August.