The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

My hat is off to Jacob Fischler, who wrote about state-based census outreach in CQ Roll Call last week.

People gather outside the Supreme Court in April to protest the Trump administration’s census citizenship question. The question will lead to inaccurate population counts, opponents say. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)He took data NCSL has gathered on its 2020 Census Resources and Legislation page, fact-checked it, figured out how to graphically display it—and then put it in context by talking to some of the nation’s experts on redistricting.

The title of his article, “States Spending Big on Make-or-Break 2020 Census,” tells the story. States are dedicating their own funds to support the success of the federal census for a simple reason: It’s good for their bottom line.

Every year, $880 million flows from the federal government to the states based on census data, according to Counting for Dollars, a project run by Andrew Reamer, a George Washington University professor.

The more people who are counted, the more money flows in. Just looking at five grant programs targeted for rural people and administered under the Department of Health and Human Services, the impact of the undercount in the 2010 census was a national average of $1,100 per person in 2015, says Reamer’s “Federal Funding for Rural America,” a report that is part of his larger Counting for Dollars project.

To make it state specific, Fischler reports:

A 1% undercount for California could represent a potential loss of about $442 million in federal funds, according to Reamer’s formula, based on the state’s current population of about 40.2 million. 

How are states helping make sure their people aren’t undercounted? Mostly by creating Complete Count Committees: statewide coordinating groups that share resources, give grants to local organizers and spread the word.

For more on what states can do to reach hard-to-count groups, join us for our Friday webinar, Census Outreach: What States are Doing, or see our 2020 Census Resources and Legislation page. 

Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director of Elections and Redistricting.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.