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2020 Census: The Big Fight For Money And Power Emerges Across America

The census count can be good or bad. Good because the government understands better how to allocate resources and bad because the new administration is seeking naturalized citizens and illegal citizens. But no one knows who they consider illegal anymore.


For states, counting every resident in the census is like hunting for coins under the sofa cushions. Added together, those people equal real money in the form of federal dollars — not to mention more seats in the U.S. Congress.

Avoiding an undercount requires a lot of outreach to the people deemed hardest to count. Among them: those who may be suspicious of or hostile to the government, racial and ethnic minorities, people with limited English, undocumented immigrants, people who are low-income or homeless, young people who move often, small children and LGBTQ individuals.

U.S. Census Bureau workers will do the actual counting next year, but states can help locate residents with new addresses, and encourage people who might be reluctant to participate. For many states, this year will be one of intense preparation — assuming lawmakers provide the necessary resources.

Congressional seats are hanging by a thread in a dozen states. Less than a 2 percent difference in the population count could mean gaining or losing a seat, according to a Stateline analysis of reapportionment projections by Election Data Services, a Virginia-based elections consulting firm.

Billions in federal dollars also depend on the census: About 300 programs use census data to distribute more than $800 billion a year, according to a 2018 report by the Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University. Medicaid, food stamps, highway construction money and school lunches all depend on the count.

“Now is the time to do it,” said Wendy Underhill, who monitors state census preparations for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Most states are on board, and I think the rest are considering it, especially these states that are on the cusp” of losing or gaining seats.


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