Everybody wins and nobody loses in getting a fair and accurate count of Pennsylvania residents in the 2020 census, but the job is a lot harder than you might think.
The Governor’s Census 2020 Complete Count Commission is asking legislators to approve $12.8 million in the state budget to help them do what their name suggests — making sure every Pennsylvania resident is counted.
But the commission is facing significant challenges between now and December 2021 when the final count of the 2020 Census will be announced.
Thousands of immigrants — especially those with undocumented relatives in their households — might be too fearful of government to fill out the forms. And the Trump administration’s push to add a question about citizenship to the Census form won’t help persuade them to cooperate.
There are others, including many seniors, who might not take the time or who might need help to respond to letters, emails or even phone calls. And there is concern about reaching thousands of people who live in remote or crime-ridden areas.
For every single resident that is not counted, the state could lose as much as $2,093 annually in federal funding. Losing that much federal money would impact everything from our representation in Congress, to repairs on roads and bridges, to Pell Grants.
A state’s population is directly tied to the number of representatives it has in Congress, and federal dollars are allocated to states based on their populations.
Burgos is concerned that language barriers might prevent an accurate count of Pennsylvania’s Latino community. The state ‘s allocation of $12.8 million, or $1 per Pennsylvania resident, would pay for interpreters and translation of census forums, not only into Spanish but into the languages of thousands of other immigrants from foreign countries who now live in the commonwealth.
Plus, the state allocation could help pay for expenses associated with town halls, community meetings and grassroots campaigns to build trust and answer questions in immigrant and other communities.
Reaching immigrant families is not the only challenge. There are concerns about getting college students at Penn State, Dickinson or Pitt to register for the census as residents of Pennsylvania.
There’s a lot at stake for college students in Pennsylvania, including access to Pell Grants, which are allocated to states based on their population, Goin said. A big chunk of Pell Grants are federal funds that makes it possible for many low-income students to attend college.
Then, there are the children, who were undercounted in the 2010 Census, according to the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, which is supporting the commission’s call for $12.8 million in state funding.
Undercounting children means the state would receive less federal funding to address the needs of the poorest, most vulnerable children in our communities.
With so many obstacles preventing a complete count, it makes sense to heed the commission’s warning and set aside money for education and outreach for the 2020 census. Commissioners make a convincing argument that spending a few million now will help will prevent the loss of billions later, especially if our population is seriously undercounted.
We urge legislators to approve the commission’s request of $1 per Pennsylvania resident to ensure the best effort is made to count everyone — from seniors to babies in arms — in the 2020 census.
— The Harrisburg Patriot