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2010 Census Means Money for States

By Mikel Chavers, CSG Associate Editor
Households across the country started receiving special 2010 census questionnaires in the mail this week, and David Adkins wants everyone to take just 10 minutes to fill out the letter’s 10 questions.
That’s because as executive director of The Council of State Governments, Adkins knows the more people who fill out and return the forms, the more likely the states will get their fair share of federal funding and will also get the most accurate population data and other data—the basis for state policies to come.
“If politics is about who gets what, when and how, ultimately the census is one of the key indicators of how funds are distributed and how we learn about our evolving nation,” Adkins said at a March 10 Washington, D.C., event promoting Census 2010.
In fact, Adkins is no stranger to just how important the census is for states.
As a Kansas legislator 10 years ago, he chaired the legislature’s reapportionment and redistricting committee. The work of state committees like the one in Kansas is based on census data. “I can tell you that it was one of the most hard-knuckled, eye-gouging, pushing and shoving political processes I have ever been involved with.”
Not only was the committee charged with drawing district lines, but members also learned how the population in Kansas was changing and other important demographics based on census data. For example, the Hispanic population doubled in the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, Adkins said.  
“In that way (the census) allows state leaders to be empowered, to craft solutions and policies to serve people based on data-driven solutions,” Adkins said.
That importance was echoed by other county and local organizations.
“The census is enormously important to citizens, to cities, to counties and to states,” said Don Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities. Borut was one of the leaders who headlined the Washington, D.C., census event with Adkins.
When folks talk about the importance of the census, they often talk about the money. That’s because federal funding to the states is based on census data and more than $400 billion goes to states and communities every year, according to the Census Bureau.
“This is not a small issue,” Borut said. It’s simple. Money is based on population, he said. “An accurate count only comes once every 10 years.”
For an accurate count, Jackie Byers, director of research and outreach for the National Association of Counties, wants to make sure parents get their children counted on the forms.
“Children are the most likely not to be counted,” Byers said at the March 10 event.
Speaking of the census forms, starting next Monday, March 22, visitors to the Census 2010 Web site can type in a city or ZIP code and track how many people are returning the census forms real time. The Census Bureau will also have a widget available for download, featuring a map tracking census form return rates. The widget can be embedded on other Web sites.
“We are hopeful that by constantly measuring the return rate … by alerting local folks to the fact that there are some neighborhoods that are falling behind, that local folks can say ‘hey we can do better than this,’” said Robert M. Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau. Groves also spoke at the census event March 10.
Groves hopes this will inspire friendly competition among cities, counties and even states. To him, the more competition, the more folks will return the forms. And more forms mean a more accurate population counts.
In this recession, accurate population counts are even more important as states and local governments struggle with funding issues.
“The fact is, the funds that come based on the census directly impact the fundamental services that citizens depend on. And in a tight economy, to make sure that you get all of the funds that are appropriate is critical. This isn’t a game. This has meaning,” Borut said.
 
 
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