Last week, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the administration’s plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 United States Census. While the administration has argued that it has the discretion to add a citizenship question and that it will help lead to a more accurate count, many opponents of the move believe that it will lead to undercounting. The question of an accurate count is important to states since funding from a number of federal programs is based upon statistics derived from the U.S. Census. In a recent study, the George Washington Institute of Public Policy found that 16 federal programs used census-driven data to allocate $589.7 billion to the 50 states and the District of Columbia in fiscal year 2015. The study noted that, “The more accurate a state’s census count, the more equitable is its share of federal funds. A substantial undercount in any one state could lead to the diversion of funds away from that state to other states and uses.”
No matter which way the Supreme Court rules, states have begun efforts to prepare for the upcoming Decennial Census. In a number of cases, these efforts have included funding to help ensure an accurate count in their state. In New York’s recently enacted fiscal 2020 budget, the state provided $20 million to help develop a comprehensive plan to identify hard-to-count populations and to determine the most effective ways to encourage participation in the Census, while New Mexico’s recently signed fiscal 2020 budget calls for $3.5 million to boost Census participation. Additionally, in Georgia the legislature approved $1.5 million in the fiscal 2020 budget for the state to conduct outreach to hard-to-count areas. While most states have yet to pass budgets for fiscal 2020, a number of governors included Census funding in their fiscal 2020 budget proposals. In North Carolina, the governor proposed providing $1.5 million to help make every North Carolinian count in the 2020 Census. Maryland’s governor included $5 million for local governments and non-profits to help with marketing and other promotional efforts to encourage participation in the census, while also providing $1.5 million to the Department of Planning to assist with census-related activities. In Minnesota, the governor recommended $1.6 million for census outreach and engagement efforts. Finally, as tracked by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), many legislators have introduced bills calling for funding to help prepare for the 2020 Census.
In addition to providing funding, governors have been highlighting the need for residents to complete the 2020 Census. Many governors held events on April 1, 2019 to mark the one-year countdown to Census Day, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. In Alabama, the governor held an event with local and community leaders to encourage maximum participation in the census. In Colorado, the governor noted that funding from the census can go toward new roads, new schools, new emergency services and economic opportunities. Nevada’s governor marked the one-year countdown by signing an executive order establishing a committee to oversee all outreach and coordination among public and private sector organizations in the state to encourage Nevadans to participate in the 2020 census. Many of the state efforts have been related to creating Complete Count Committees (CCC), a program supported by the U.S. Census Bureau that encourages tribal, state, and local governments to partner with community leaders to implement a 2020 Census awareness campaign based upon their knowledge of the local community to encourage a response.
Finally, states are monitoring possible challenges at the federal level regarding the 2020 Census. These issues include the need for adequate federal funding to effectively conduct the 2020 Census, reduced testing of census operations and procedures, hiring a qualified temporary workforce in a tight labor market, and technology challenges including possible security vulnerabilities.