As one of the poorest counties in the state of Texas, Cameron County needs all the federal dollars it can get, though chronic undercounting during the U.S. census every 10 years means the county, its communities and residents are consistently deprived of resources that otherwise would be coming to them.
Federal dollars are, after all, taxpayer dollars. They’re distributed to cities, counties and states through virtually every federal agency and department for everything under the sun — from highway projects to nutrition programs — based on population. The census count dictates the level of congressional representation districts are entitled to, and guides the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts.
So please fill out the 2020 census form, is the message from local, state and federal elected officials. It features zero questions regarding immigration status on any member of a household, thus there is nothing to fear, according to officials. A count of every resident of the United States every 10 years is mandated by the Constitution. Still, every decade a sizable chunk of Cameron County’s population refuses, for whatever reason, to complete the simple questionnaire, which now can be done online or on the phone.
In many cases, those not filling out the census form are the ones who might benefit most from the additional funding a complete tallying of the population would bring. The Census Bureau estimates that Cameron County, with an estimated population of 423,163, has a poverty rate of just under 30 percent.
As of June 14, the national “self-response rate” was 61.4 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while in Texas it was 56.1 percent. In Cameron County the response rate was only 43.7 percent. The state with the highest response rate was Iowa, at 67.7 percent. Census data is used to decide determine which communities need new schools, clinics and roads, and more services for families, children and the elderly.
“The results will also inform how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP,” according to the census bureau.
At a recent press conference, Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said an accurate count is especially critical now, with the county’s finances taking a hit as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and no federal relief funds to help with revenue shortfalls except those directly related to dealing with the pandemic.
“Everything that is done through the government is usually based upon census numbers,” he said. “All that money that’s being made available to higher populated areas, we’re not getting it because we’re not getting counted. … We have an opportunity to address and fix that, but we only get one chance every 10 years.”
To drive the point home, U.S. representatives Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez released a Public Service Announcement to be aired on television stations in English and Spanish, noting that an accurate count is necessary to ensure South Texas gets enough federal funding to support hospitals, schools and the construction of roads and bridges.
“An accurate count of the 2020 census will ensure that billions in federal dollars reach South Texas,” Vela says in the PSA. “This count will determine funding for schools, hospitals, libraries and other public services. We need you help, now more than ever, to make sure that our community is counted.”
Complete the 2020 census by Oct. 31 by mail, phone or online at 2020census.gov.