Having an accurate U.S. Census count benefits a community in several ways.

The most obvious is financial. Each year, 325 federal programs use data derived from the census to distribute grants and financial assistance to states, counties and communities.

Information and studies done by the George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy show the census’ affect on communities.

Using financial data from fiscal year 2016, researchers determined that those 325 programs distributed more than $900 billion across the country. The 55 largest federal programs made up $883.1 billion.

Of this $883.1 billion, Indiana received almost $18 billion. That amount was based on census data derived from the previous official count, which was in 2010.

Federal funding programs come under three types of expenditures. The biggest is financial assistance programs. This area includes multiple programs, an example of which are Medicaid and Medicare Supplemental Medical Insurance, special education grants, federal transit capital investment grants, Homeland Security grants, Pell grants and direct student loans.

There are also tax credit programs, like low income housing tax credits and new markets tax credits.

Procurement programs award a portion of federal contract dollars to small businesses located in areas selected on the basis of census-derived data.

Coming up with a dollar amount an area gets for each person is difficult, Andrew Reamer, research professor at George Washington University, wrote in a report about the census’ impact on federal funding. The areas that are sensitive to a miscount use data for a specific group of people.

“For example, Title I for education,” he explained, “it depends on the cities’ and states’ count of children ages 5 to 17 who are poor. If the census misses 10,000 65-year-olds, it doesn’t affect funding for poor children because it’s the wrong age group. It’s not only how many you miss, but who you miss.”

But the census’ impact goes beyond federal funding and U.S. Congress representation, which are uses for the numbers instilled in the U.S. Constitution. It also impacts a community’s economic development.

Businesses tend to use census data to determine if they will invest in a community by opening a store or facility in that community, Reamer told the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee in May.

“Firms depend on census-derived data to determine if and where to open a business establishment,” he said, “how large to make that establishment, and what goods and services to provide.”

He also told the committee that state and local governments use census-derived data to figure out how to best serve their areas. That includes “where to place schools, highways and health clinics; how to design police patrols; and how to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies,” Reamer said. “These various decisions affect the economic conditions under which businesses operate — such as transportation infrastructure, labor markets and housing markets.”

Committees have formed locally to develop ideas and methods to spread the word about the 2020 Census and to encourage others to complete the form this spring.
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