Congressional leaders urge strong effort for Census 2020

Congressional representatives for the Valley this past week repeated their strong backing for a comprehensive Census 2020 count which will be critical in determining how federal funds to cities and counties are allocated across the region.

Census 2020 won’t commence for more than a year, but since many analysts believe the Valley is one of the most undercounted regions of the nation, federal and local officials are urging an aggressive campaign to count every resident possible.

“As the U.S. congressman for an area known for low response rates, and a history of being undercounted, I understand how critical it is that the 15th District of Texas report accurate, full numbers during the 2020 Decennial Census,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said via email. “This census will create the opportunity for area residents and ensure they have access to the representation and resources to improve their communities.”

Hidalgo County challenged the 2010 Census, arguing anywhere between 3.2 percent and 9 percent of its population was undercounted. Every resident not counted is believed to cost counties and cities $1,500 in lost federal revenue each year until the next census.

“Last year, I welcomed the Census Bureau’s decision to open an office in Hidalgo County and thanked Acting Director Ron Jarmin and his team for recognizing the need to count all people living in Central and South Texas,” Gonzalez added. “With an area census office, we can more accurately, effectively, and efficiently count the recent growth in the Rio Grande Valley and hopefully see an allocation of federal funds that matches this growth.”

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, also has encouraged local and regional officials for an early and comprehensive effort to ensure Census 2020 provides an accurate population survey in the Valley.

“The timely and accurate counting of our national population is a fundamental responsibility of government, and the upcoming 2020 Census will shape state, local and federal policy decisions that impact every American,” Vela said via email.

“Census 2020 will see the biggest effort yet to get-out-the-count in the Valley,” he added.

The Rio Grande Valley is one of the fastest-growing regions in Texas.

By 2017, estimates indicated Hidalgo County’s population increased by at least 11.1 percent since the census count in 2010, and the counties of Cameron (up 4.3 percent) and Starr (up 5.7 percent) also showed major population gains.

Only Willacy County showed an estimated loss of population since the 2010 count, down 2.5 percent.

“With the opening of new area census offices and hiring and training of new census specialists, we will be better prepared at making sure everyone in the community is able to participate and be accurately represented,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said via email. “This opportunity allows the people in my district to not be overlooked or undercounted, especially when federal dollars are at stake.”

Whether Census 2020 consists of 10 or 11 questions is still to be determined.

Potential question No. 11, for the first time since the 1950 Census, would ask whether the occupants of the household filling out the census form are United States citizens.

Many analysts believe historic census undercounts in the Valley, like border areas in the western United States, can be attributed to fears of revealing residency information to the federal government.

Although by law such information cannot be shared by the Census Bureau with other federal or state agencies, many people living in the United States have concerns about revealing their residency status.

Several lawsuits initiated by states challenging the addition of Question No. 11 are winding through the court system. It is likely the U.S. Supreme Court will make the final decision on whether the question will be part of Census 2020.

“The Trump Administration’s plan to include questions regarding citizenship will decrease participation and reduce the accuracy of the census,” Vela said. “The citizenship question seems intended to instill fear in immigrants and discourage them from responding. If a fully and fair count is not achieved, communities in South Texas and around the country will suffer.

“I will continue to fight against undercounting and will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure a fair and accurate 2020 census,” he added.