Las Vegas Sun

October 18, 2019

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Why your participation in the census is so important

2010 Census

Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Shoppers stop alongside the 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour Vehicle to listen to speakers during the event held Wednesday at Cardenas Market in Las Vegas.

In January, census workers will begin counting the population in the western Alaskan community of Toksook Bay, the first step in the decennial population count that will determine representation in the House of Representatives, boundaries of legislative districts and government funding allocations. In short, it’s important. The count, and its accuracy, can have ramifications during the course of the next decade. Emily Zamora, executive director of Silver State Voices and a member of the state’s Complete Count Committee, said that an accurate count will have a large effect in here and around the country. “There are just a lot of decisions that affect Nevadans’ day-to-day lives that are made based on census data,” she said.

When is the census and how do I do it?

Did you know?

Not only is your participation in the U.S. Census important, it's mandatory. Though it's been almost 50 years since anyone was prosecuted for refusing to participate in the Census, those choosing not to be counted — or for answering questions falsely — can be fined.

The Census Bureau will begin the population count in January in rural Alaska, but for the rest of the country, the process will begin a bit later.

April 1 is Census Day, the date by which households will have received an invitation to participate in the census. In the months that follow, census workers will check in with households around the country.

Zamora said participants can respond online, by mail or by phone.

“This is going to be the first census where a majority of people will not fill it out via paper,” she said.

An accurate count could mean more money for Nevada

The money that Nevada and other states receive based on population count is not chump change.

A July report from the George Washington Institute for Public Policy at George Washington University showed that, in fiscal year 2016, Nevada received about $6.2 billion from 55 federal programs dependent on a population count.

These funds are used for health care, infrastructure, education, housing and more.

The program with the highest rate of federal funding allocation in Nevada was Medicaid, at almost $2.7 billion, followed by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—formerly known as food stamps—at about $629.5 million and Medicare Part B funds at $581.7 million.

Many programs dependent on an accurate census count affect children, including Head Start and the National School Lunch Program. Zamora said children up to age 5 were the most undercounted demographic in the 2010 census, and urged parents to contribute an accurate count so child-based programs get their necessary funding.

A hit to funding if the count is inaccurate would have serious ramifications down the line, Zamora said.

“These are all things that affect day-to-day Nevadans greatly,” she said. “If we don’t receive that adequate funding, there’s definitely going to be an impact to our community.”

An accurate data count helps businesses grow

Businesses looking to develop often use census population data to improve their economic opportunities.

For example, they can utilize the demographic data to know where to best open a second location.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, published a post earlier this year stressing the damage limited or inaccurate data could have on businesses looking to develop or expand.

Would Nevada get more congressional representation?

One of the most visible effects of the census is a potential increase in the state’s congressional representation.

Each state is guaranteed one representative in the 435-member House of Representatives, which leaves 385 seats unspoken for. These are divided among the states by a formula based on population.

This apportionment count will be delivered to the president by December 2020.

Zamora was cautious about Nevada’s chances for increasing congressional representation, calling it unlikely but not impossible. “There are other states that have a much bigger possibilities of gaining or losing,” she said.

According to a 2018 study by political consulting firm Election Data Services, states likely to gain at least one seat include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana and Texas.

“All of the population projection methodologies keep the state of Nevada at four seats and sufficiently away from any margins of a fifth possible seat,” the study said.

A citizenship question IS NOT on the census

President Donald Trump and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross spent more than a year pushing to put a citizenship question on the census. The effort was decried by advocacy groups, including the Institute for a Progressive Nevada and Make the Road Nevada, over concern that it would have a chilling effect on census respondents who feared deportation if their status was shared with the government.

In a hypothetical situation, if a few million undocumented immigrants don’t participate in the census, the areas in which they live would not receive funding equal to the total population, and those living there may also miss out on representation opportunities.

Trump abandoned the effort after the Supreme Court ruled against the question, with Chief Justice John Roberts breaking with the conservative wing of the court and ruling that the administration’s given reason for adding the question was insufficient.

Zamora stressed that citizenship information will not be collected on the census and federal regulations exist stopping the Census Bureau from sharing certain data with governmental entities.

“This is a perfect example of how someone who is not a U.S. citizen but is living in our communities can [participate] in civil engagement by filling out a census form,” Zamora said.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.