Op-Ed

Tell Congress to adequately fund census count — our spending guide

Shuttlestock

Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten and preschool: taking turns, kindness, sharing, honesty. Especially honesty.

High quality early-childhood education is a crucial building block for success. However, low-income children often have less access, due to cost and availability. Programs like Head Start or Early Head Start were created to help these children prepare for school, but also to help low-income families balance child care and employment.

States receive funding based on the number of low-income mothers and children from the U.S. Census.

Each year the federal government funds 16 key programs that support children from disadvantaged families, including the National School Lunch program, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, Child Care and Development Block Grants, Head Start and Early Head Start.

The results of the 2020 Census will guide the allocation of more than $9 billion in annual federal spending for those programs in Kentucky, according to the study “Counting for Dollars,” led by professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University.

The Trump administration recently asked Congress to increase funding for the Census Bureau in 2018 by $187 million. Analysis leads me and my allies to believe the increase needed is closer to $400 million for outreach, partnership and testing of new operations to ensure a complete, fair and accurate count.

Kentucky will miss out if our residents are undercounted. Nearly 10 percent of Kentuckians live in what are considered “hard to count” areas and could be missed by a lackluster census count. This figures rises to more than 19 percent for Hispanics and 22 percent for African-Americans.

Regrettably, children age 4 and under are at a higher risk of being undercounted than other ages. The Census Bureau estimates that more than 7,500 young children in Kentucky were not counted in the 2010 census, a number that could affect dollars coming to Kentucky if we allow it to happen again.

The census is more than a head count. The framers of the Constitution intended it to ensure the fair allocation of political power. Population data from the census are used for the reapportionment of congressional seats and the redistricting of Kentucky’s state and local government political districts.

Just as importantly, census data are used in civil-rights and voting-rights enforcement. The information is used to protect access to the ballot, to monitor discrimination and to examine economic equality.

However, the 2020 Census is at risk. Our nation’s policymakers have severely underfunded preparations for the 2020 Census by hundreds of millions of dollars.

I am a data analyst for an education nonprofit serving Appalachia. My team and I recognize that a few data points cannot tell a whole human story. Instead we see data as a tool that helps us begin to understand a school, community or region. I use all kinds of information to try and figure out the difference our work makes, and I have to know the baseline. Census data provides that baseline.

The census is a massive undertaking, involving more than a decade of planning, elaborate tests of new counting methods, extensive outreach to a more diverse and mobile population, and hiring a temporary workforce of more than half a million to contact those who fail to respond.

I encourage readers to contact their senators and representatives in Washington, D.C. before the final 2018 funding bill is considered this month. Our commonwealth has too much at stake for the next decade to ignore this issue.

Rebecca Tucker lives in Madison County and is a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

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