MCALLEN, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez says if everyone in his county is counted during Census 2020, the population will be close to 1.2 million, not the current 860,000.

Cortez spoke about the importance of an accurate and full census count in a speech to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s governmental affairs committee last Wednesday. He brought with him a map of the county showing lots of yellow and red areas. These signified rooftops missed by the Census Bureau.

“Why is the census important? Well it affects us politically, socially, health-wise and also economically,” Cortez said.

“It affects how many representatives we have in the (U.S.) House and in our state government. It affects our social and health well-being because of Medicaid programs, the indigent care, the disabled, nutrition programs, children’s health, CHIP. If we are 35 percent poor here, all of that becomes very important.”

Cortez estimates that for every person that lives in Hidalgo County, the county will get $1,600 a year from population-driven programs. “You do the math. If you undercount 10,000 people times ten, that is a lot of money.”

Cortez said one has to multiply any figure by ten because the impact of the census will last a decade.

“What we are doing this year is taking advantage of technology. We went to the camera, to the sky, and took pictures of all of the county to identify all the rooftops,” Cortez said.

Pointing to his map, Cortez said: “The yellow and red were areas that were not listed in the Census address book. We found 14,274 new addresses, we corrected 15,968 addresses and we eliminated 5,152. That is still a net change of 25,000 now cleaner addresses.”

Cortez pointed out that the average number of people per household at the last census was 3.6. 

“So, if you multiply 3.6 times 25,000 that is 90,000. Ninety thousand people that were not counted or miscounted. Right now we have 332,664 households listed in the census address book. You multiply that by 3.6, that is going to get you to 1.2 million. So, if we can count everybody we ought to be able to hit over a million people.”

Whose job is it to ensure a full and accurate census count is taken, Cortez asked. He said it was everyone’s. However, he said Hidalgo County must play a very active role. 

“It is so important for all of us that we talk to everybody we can, friends, neighbors, businesses, schools, everywhere we can to make sure people get counted. What is the tendency for people not to be counted? Those that may be not here legally, they do not want you to know they are here,” Cortez said. He argued that census enumerators should come for the area.

“If you have a stranger that goes into the neighborhood, they (local residents) are not going to welcome you. So, we are trying to send (local) people into these areas, people that they (local residents) know. We have to recruit from within.”

Cortez added that, for the first time, residents will be able to compete their census form through the Internet and by telephone. “Hopefully, that is going to help,” he said.

Merger of MPOs

Cortez’s speech to the McAllen Chamber was wide-ranging. It included discussion on the Hidalgo County’s legislative agenda, its image, its revenue and expenses, eco-tourism, economic development and the possibility of merging the three Rio Grande Valley’s three metropolitan planning organizations.

On the subject of merging the MPOs, Cortez said time was on Hidalgo County’s side. He pointed out that MPOs with a population of more than a million received the lion’s share of transportation funding, courtesy of the Texas Department of Transportation. If the other two MPOs in the Valley do not want to merge with Hidalgo County MPO, the county could just wait until the 2020 Census is complete. Its population would then be over one million.

“As you know, our system of allocating funds is based on where the greatest needs are. The Texas Department of Transportation says, let’s take care of where the highest density is. That makes sense.”

Unlike the Valley, Cortez said, areas such as Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio consolidated with surrounding areas in order to create the critical mass needed for a seat at the ‘big’ table.

“When they consolidated themselves they created the critical mass. So, they (the big metro areas) enjoy 83 percent of the monies that are available. The rest of us get 17 percent. Well, because of the numbers, we (Hidalgo County) are not quite a million. If we were to merge with Harlingen, Cameron County and Brownsville, we would be over a million. So, we would go automatically go to the 83 percent and enjoy much more money.”

Cortez admitted he does not have a lot of experience with MPOs. However, he said he does have a lot of experience on what is fair and just. 

“So, when we were trying to negotiate a deal (with Brownsville MPO, and Harlingen-San Benito MPO), I was listening and listening and listening. It appeared to me, and I may be wrong, and I want this conversation to continue, but it appeared that they (Brownsville and Harlingen-San Benito) felt that they needed to have a little greasing because we could not do it without them saying yes,” Cortez said.

“So, they were going to ask for a little bit more. Perfectly understandable. If I were negotiating for McAllen or the county I would try to get all I can. That is just human nature. But this is so important that we cannot play those games. It is so important for us to do this right; that we sit down and identify what is fair and equitable and let that definition decide how we allocate and spend the money, not who the boss is going to be.”

Cortez said Hidalgo County MPO has sent the other two Valley MPOs a proposal.

“Hopefully, they will agree to it because that would be very important for us to meet that (million population) threshold. Should that be unsuccessful… I hope it would be successful because Cameron County is part of who we are, they are just a little further east from us. We want that to work. I believe that after this Census we will be at a million ourselves and so basically what we have to do is maybe wait a little extra.”