Charleston Gazette – Imagine if filling out one form could determine where schools, roads and hospitals are built, how many federal dollars are sent to your community, and your amount of political representation. That form exists — it’s the census, and the opportunity to be counted only comes around every 10 years. Read online.
In fiscal year 2016, West Virginia received over $6.7 billion through federal spending programs guided by data from the census. These dollars went to housing vouchers, substance-use treatment funding, school lunch programs, business and industry loans and child-care assistance, just to name a few examples.
The consequences of not being counted are significant. Approximately 300 financial assistance programs rely on data derived from the census. One study estimated that West Virginia lost $1,107 in federal dollars for each person who was not counted in the 2010 census. That means every single one of us has a tangible interest in completing the census and in ensuring that the state’s population is counted accurately.
States have spent the past year mobilizing to ensure a complete count in order to receive adequate and accurate federal funding for these vital programs. Forty-two states have established complete-count commissions, made up of state and local governments, faith-based organizations, businesses, nonprofits, the news media and others, to ensure complete counts. Unfortunately, West Virginia has not yet established one.
A complete-count commission is incredibly important in West Virginia, where we have a significant population that is considered hard to count. One in four West Virginians (443,733 people) live in hard-to-count neighborhoods. These are places where many households did not mail in their census forms in 2010. They also include places where residents are unable to get mail at their physical addresses.
The 2020 census may prove even more challenging for some West Virginia residents to complete, as this will be the first census filled out primarily via the internet. In West Virginia, 25.8 percent of households have no internet or only dial-up access, which creates another potential barrier to an accurate count.
We are exactly one year out from the 2020 census. West Virginia and Gov. Jim Justice should act immediately to form a complete-count commission and to direct resources to ensuring an accurate representation of hard-to-count areas.
Census Counts, a collaborative group of 15 national organizations, estimates that West Virginia could fund a robust outreach strategy with $3.6 million in dedicated state funding. That’s an investment of 1/20th of 1 percent of the federal dollars we will bring into the state with an accurate count.
We should invest in our people, our future and ensure that all of the dollars available to do that come to our state.
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