AUSTIN — In lieu of state support to ensure accurate census numbers, advocates and local government officials from across Texas announced Wednesday morning their own plans to reach all parts of the vast and notoriously hard-to-count state.
A coalition of dozens of nonprofit and philanthropy organizations as well as local governments launched Texas Counts, a centralized hub for the 2020 census that already has more than $3 million to help local communities with outreach. Next year’s decennial census begins April 1 and must be submitted to the president by Dec. 31.
Ann Beeson, the CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, one of the organizations heading up Texas Counts, said 25% of Texans are considered hard to count because they live in Spanish-speaking or immigrant communities, reside in sparse rural areas or are experiencing homelessness.
“While we have wonderful get-out-the-count efforts underway in major metropolitan areas and other areas of the state, way too many communities across our state lack the resources and support that they need to ensure a complete count,” Beeson said. As a result, CPPP and others formed the two-pronged Texas Counts. One focus is on engagement with local groups across the state like health clinics, businesses and faith-based organizations. The other is on issuing grants to communities from a statewide fund for things like outreach to hard-to-reach communities and workers to support understaffed complete count committees.
The federal government, states and local governments use census data for things like redistricting and appropriating funds as well as the number of seats Texas will be allotted in the U.S. House of Representatives. Estimates suggest Texas could gain up to three U.S. House seats after the 2020 census. But many officials and advocates have expressed fear that the lack of state support and other factors could result in an undercount, potentially reducing the number of seats Texas could gain and creating a loss of up to $3 billion in annual federal funding that otherwise would’ve been directed to the state.
“You don’t have to be a part of any party to care about an accurate count of Texans,” Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said. “It’s important because we’re all Americans, and we’re all Texans, and we want what’s rightfully ours, and we can’t get it if we don’t know how many of us there are and where we live.”
The Legislature failed to pass several bills that would have provided funding to support the census. Instead, lawmakers left it up to cities, counties and the federal government to handle the census, unlike other large states like California, which is spending $154 million on ensuring an accurate count.
And this isn’t the first time the state has declined to provide significant support or funding to the census. It did the same in 2010.
Fears of an undercount in Texas worsened with the battle in the federal courts over whether a citizenship question — which some advocates said might discourage non-citizens from participating in the census — would be added. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately blocked it a few months ago, but advocates say the damage has already been done as some communities fear filling out the census could lead to them being targeted and deported.
Because of this, Elizabeth Bille, a representative for Latino civic engagement group NALEO Education Fund, said they are now working on educating those groups about the census and the federal protections that ensure their responses cannot be used against them. Demographic estimates put Texas’ Latino population at around 11 million, with 75,000 of those children under five, one of the groups most commonly missed by the census.
“We want our community to be prepared to know that it’s safe, that it’s easy, and that we’re here as a resource,” Bille said.