September 23, 2020 536 PM
With the Sept. 30 Census deadline fast approaching, we have much more work to do, both locally and statewide. As a state, we have made considerable progress in the last month, but we’re still lagging behind most states whose response rates are close to completion at 97 to 99 percent. More troubling are the response rates in the Big Bend and Trans-Pecos region, with the rural counties in Senate District 29 averaging less than 50 percent. Unless we change course quickly, we will have to deal with the negative ramifications of an undercount for the next decade.
The census is the official measure of the entire population of the United States and its territories; it’s conducted every ten years. This official population count determines how many congressional representatives each state will have as well as for state legislative districts and local districts (e.g., city, county, school boards). In addition, the federal government also uses it to determine how to distribute billions of dollars every year.
The rural areas of Far West Texas have not experienced anywhere near the population growth seen in other areas of the state. In fact, the combined population of Presidio, Jeff Davis, Culberson, Hudspeth, and Brewster counties has remained largely stagnant over the last decade.
This growth disparity will result in a shift in political representation at the state and federal levels. Districts will need to be geographically larger to make up for the lack of population growth and to meet the new averages for congressional and state legislative districts. The greater our census undercount, the more disadvantaged the Trans-Pecos region will be in our respective political arenas.
This lack of growth will also play a major role in the way funding and resources are distributed to our communities. From affordable housing to schools to health care to roads and bridges, the census is used to gauge the need for government assistance and critical infrastructure in communities across the nation, and the Trans-Pecos is no different. Completing the census is absolutely critical to the long-term resiliency of our communities.
According to experts, even just a 1 percent undercount in our state’s population could result in an annual loss of $300 million in federal funding. At a time when our schools and local governments are grappling with significant budget shortfalls, federal funding will be critical in dealing with the long-term economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, state leadership did not prioritize the census count during the last two legislative sessions. Unlike other states that have spent millions of dollars and years on census outreach to make sure every person in their state gets counted, Texas leaders ignored requests from legislators, local leaders and community organizations to create a statewide complete count committee or to appropriate funds for census outreach. Only in the last month – in the 11th hour – did the Texas secretary of state solicit proposals for advertising. This lackluster approach has shifted the burden of census outreach to our local political subdivisions and community organizations.
This job has been made even more difficult by the Trump administration’s excessive efforts to change census policies – most of which have been found unconstitutional and thrown out. Never before has the census been weaponized against minority and immigrant communities as this president has done. The trust once placed in this long standing process has been damaged severely. His actions have resulted in significant misinformation and fear, especially in border communities that already had hard-to-count areas.
Nonetheless, we must persist in our efforts to make sure every Texan is counted. It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part during these unprecedented times. If you haven’t already, complete your census. The few minutes it takes to complete are worth a decade and beyond of federal funding, political representation and addressing the needs of our communities.
After you’ve completed your census, serve as a trusted voice among your family and friends and ask them to do the same. Reach out to friends and colleagues on social media. Call your comadres and tios. Make sure those in your circles know how important the census is to our community.
For information on the census, and to complete yours, visit www.2020Census.gov, or call 844-330-2020 to respond by phone. Help shape our region’s future for the better.