Commentary: Right now, the 2020 Census, the data derived from it and the redistricting process that comes after, is under threat. And unless the U.S. Senate’s COVID-19 relief bill contains an extension of the deadline to complete the census, New Mexicans will pay the price—for the next 10 years.
The census is incredibly essential for the wellbeing and growth of New Mexico. Each year, census figures help direct billions in federal funding. An analysis of 55 census-directed programs found that in fiscal year 2016, New Mexico received $7.8 billion in funding based on census results. That includes:
$4.3 billion for Medicaid
$693 million for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
$386 million for highway planning and construction
$194 million in special education grants
$144 million for school breakfast and lunches
$83.5 million for Head Start programs
One important census-based formula is the federal medical assistance percentage, which determines how funding is allocated for five major programs that support the health and well-being of children and families: Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Foster Care Program, the Adoption Assistance Program, and the Child Care and Development Fund. In fiscal year 2015, for each person not counted in the last census, the state of New Mexico lost $1,121 in FMAP funds.
Census data have been used to allocate resources from the Coronavirus Relief Fund and will be used to allocate future federal funds to combat COVID-19. The state of New Mexico was expected to receive an estimated $1.25 billion in CRF funds.
The allocation of all these federal funds depends on an accurate census. Last April, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau released a joint statement saying that an extended deadline for data collection was necessary to protect public health and to “[e]nsure a complete and accurate count of all communities.” But recently, the administration reversed its course and announced that it now intends to cut short the collection of census data despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As of August 10, the census self-response rate stood at only 63.3 percent; the response rate in New Mexico is significantly lower, at 53.4 percent. That means that unless the deadline for the census is extended, New Mexico will have a lower self-response rate than in 2010 and stands to lose millions of dollars in federal funding every year until the 2030 census is complete.
This isn’t the only negative consequence of an inaccurate census count. Census figures determine congressional apportionment—how many seats each state receives in the U.S. House of Representatives–which ultimately impacts political power and representation. Companies also rely on census data to help locate customers and to guide major business decisions, such as where to invest and create new jobs.
An incomplete census count is bad for democracy, bad for business, and bad for New Mexico. Political leaders must act immediately to ensure that the Census Bureau has the time it needs—the time the administration previously requested—to conduct a full, fair, and accurate census count across the country. Most importantly, the deadlines for data collection should be allowed to continue until October 31 as originally planned, instead of September 30.
Because ensuring every New Mexican is counted in the 2020 census is the first step to building a stronger New Mexico, guaranteeing every family receives their fair share of representation and federal funding they need to build thriving communities.
Eli Cuna is the Census Coordinator for the Center for Civic Policy.