Key to city’s census effort may be left up to kids

HARLINGEN — A new logo may draw attention to the city’s Census 2020 efforts, but the most effective tactic to make sure as many residents as possible are counted could be in the hands of children.

The new Harlingen 2020 Census logo is a red, white and blue circle with a check marked H in the middle and three arms raised.

Yet the key to city’s efforts to ensure any undercount is minimal, may lie with students in the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District enlisted to help parents file online.

“The one thing we’ve kind of been focusing on is just following the question on citizenship,” said Gabe Gonzalez, the assistant city manager who is spearheading the city census effort. “But now that the Supreme Court has said it’s not going to be there, we think that’s going to help our count.”

“But there’s still a lot of apprehension from some of the groups in town,” he added. “We have an appointee from the school district on the Complete Count Committee, so we’re going to try to focus on getting the information to the kids, because they are the ones who are computer-savvy.”

Calls and emails to HCISD officials for comment went unreturned.

File on phone

At stake Valley-wide are hundreds of millions of dollars in federal monies allocated to cities and counties across the region based largely on population. Since these funds will be doled out over 10 years until the next census, experts say each person who goes uncounted can cost a city as much as $1,500 a year, or $150,000 over the course of a decade.

Gonzalez said his Complete Count Committee is working with the regional Lower Rio Grande Valley
Development Council and the local school district to ensure kids are up to speed on what they can do to help parents in the first-ever online census registration which begins in April.

“You can actually use your cell phone to fill out the survey, and just about everybody has a cell phone,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to push that information to the students and they can take it back home and help their parents fill it out.”

Gonzalez conceded kids probably won’t have all the required information on household income questions on the Census 2020 form, so they may need some help from parents.

Drilling down

The assistant city manager said his committee is working closely with the LRGVDC so all the municipalities in the Valley are consistent in their approach to getting an accurate count in 2020. After years of denial, even Census Bureau officials now concede the Valley has been chronically undercounted in the past.

“This whole process started off with the LUCA (Local Update of Census Addresses Operation) program where cities would actually participate in reviewing census addresses that were sent to us and then we would provide addresses that were missed,” Gonzalez said. “I think our count sent back about 1,200 addresses that were not on that original list.”

Gonzalez stressed the work on the LUCA list was entirely confidential and that federal law precludes city officials from revealing anything other than the actual addresses not initially listed.

They also helped with the ROAM (Response Outreach Area Mapper) program so you actually looked at census tracts,” Gonzalez said, referring to the LRGVDC. “What the Census Bureau did was they take a certain tract and divide it into block groups. And they want block groups to be about 5,000 people. If your block groups are growing, they’ll cut them up and make different, smaller block groups.”

These groups are usually growing, not declining, and keeping them from 5,000 to 8,000 populations is critical to managing the count. Anything over that runs the risk of missing out on the correct number of residents.

This drilling down into a community neighborhood-by-neighborhood is happening across the country, all in an effort to ensure as accurate a count as possible.

“What we did was went and looked at two they had identified in Harlingen which they were going to split up again,” he said. “One was around the Palm Valley area, but they had a block group going through part of Harlingen and part of Palm Valley. So we went in and cordoned off all of Palm Valley so their numbers wouldn’t be in our data.”