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To Ensure The 2020 Census Counts All Texans, A Lawmaker Wants The State To Help Out

An envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census.
Michelle R. Smith
An envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census.

The 2020 census is still a year away but the nationwide head count is already on the minds of lawmakers in Austin. There are big political and policy implications for states in the once-a-decade headcount, so there's an incentive in Austin and other state capitols to help ensure that every Texan is counted.

At a recent press conference in the Texas Capitol, state Rep. César Blanco, a Democrat from El Paso, warned that if Texas lawmakers don't put resources toward getting all of the state's residents counted, the state will lose out on political power and federal dollars to other states.

Blanco noted that California – Texas lawmakers' favorite bogeyman – plans to spend $150 million for outreach to hard-to-count communities and other census support. Texas, he says, has yet put dedicate any funding to make sure that Texans aren't missed.

"Texas is behind, and that's not a very Texas thing to say," Blanco said. "But if we don't step up, the reality is California is going to eat our lunch. Our Texas dollars will be going to California and other states."

» RELATEDWhat You Need To Know About The 2020 Census — NPR

A quarter of Texans are considered difficult to count. Young children are often overlooked, and rural communities along the border tend to be underrepresented.

Historically, the state's population has been undercounted, which means that Texas misses out on federal dollars to pay for public schools, highways, and healthcare. A study by the George Washington University's Institute of Public Policy estimates that even a 1 percent undercount in 2020 could cost Texas nearly $292 million.

Priscilla Camacho from the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce said a complete census is also important for business because the data it generates is essential.

"Data is used every day, all day by businesses," she said. "When we make relocation decisions, when we talk about expanding in a location, we use data and much of that is census data."

The size of Texas' congressional delegations is also at stake and advocates say a growing Texas could lose House seats to other states if a lot of Texans aren't counted.

With less than a year before census workers knock on their first doors, the 2020 census has been plagued by issues around funding, preparation and even faced controversy over the controversy over the printer contracted to produce paper questionnaires. 

The Trump administration has also faced legal challenges over a question about citizenship status that could depress response rates in immigrant communities. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month over the question, " Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

» RELATED |  Census Bureau Must Be 'Totally Objective' On Citizenship Question, Director Says

It's also the first time that the census will be done online. That will allow the census to be available in dozens of languages, but also raises concerns about cybersecurity and privacy. Paper census forms will be mailed out, but only in Spanish and English.  

That's why advocates say Texas needs to step up to make sure the count includes every resident. Legislation introduced by Rep. Blanco in the House and Sen. Chuy Hinojosa in the Senate would create a commission to help ensure everyone gets counted and earmarks money to work with community organizations in often-undercounted groups to do outreach.

In the past, Texas has designated funding for census outreach.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Christopher Connelly is a KERA reporter based in Fort Worth. Christopher joined KERA after a year and a half covering the Maryland legislature for WYPR, the NPR member station in Baltimore. Before that, he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow at NPR – one of three post-graduates who spend a year working as a reporter, show producer and digital producer at network HQ in Washington, D.C.