RIO GRANDE CITY – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar says the Census Bureau may adjust the population numbers for border communities in order to get more federal dollars flowing to them.
Cuellar, D-Laredo, said he got this impression following a Zoom meeting he had with Census Bureau Director Robert Santos. Also on the Zoom were U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen.
“We had a meeting with the new Census director and they are looking at the possibilities. They might not make any changes that would impact redistricting, of course, but they might be looking at how monies are distributed,” Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.
The Zoom meeting followed a letter sent by Cuellar, Escobar, Gonzalez and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, to Santos. In the letter, which was first reported in the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, the members of Congress claimed there had been a serious undercount in border communities during the Census 2020 count, primarily caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Census Bureau did everything possible under difficult circumstances,” Cuellar said of the 2020 Census count. “They were running more ads in Spanish. Ten years ago they were not doing that. But, that said, we border folks… why is it that Zapata, Webb, Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron, we are all saying the same thing: that there was a big undercount.”
Cuellar added: “I told the (Census Bureau) director, hey, you did a great job, under the circumstances. Later, he said, well, we might do some adjustments. It is not a done deal but they are going to look at it.”
Starr County Judge Eloy Vera (pictured above with Congressman Cuellar) said if Rep. Cuellar can pull it off and get the federal dollars his county deserves for its true population number, he will be even more of a hero than he is now.
“The Census Bureau puts us at 65,000. But, I believe it is somewhere between 75,000 and 80,000. There was a serious undercount in the 2020 Census,” Vera told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.
“Even though we are doing very well, financially, we do not have the money to gamble on lawsuit challenging the census numbers, especially when you are going up against the federal government.”
Vera added: “If Congressman Cuellar can get us more federal funding to reflect our true population that would be great. No one has helped Starr County like Congressman Cuellar.”
Cuellar told Vera he was happy to help.
“We got on a Zoom call with Director Santos. He is a very nice man,” Cuellar told Vera. “I said, I know it is hard to change the population numbers to influence redistricting, but surely the numbers could be looked at for federal funding. He said, well, we have got to take a look at it. It is not for sure. But there is a possibility.”
Here is the letter the four members of Congress sent to Census Bureau Director Santos
January 10th, 2022
The Honorable Robert Santos
U.S. Census Bureau
4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, D.C. 20233
Dear Director Santos:
The 2020 U.S. Census was conducted during a major pandemic while the previous Administration made several attempts to depress census participation. This caused significant challenges for the U.S. Census Bureau and greatly exacerbated the undercount of persons of color. The question now is how large the undercount will be and how it will affect the fair allocation of federal resources.
As you know, the decennial census is used for a variety of purposes including the allocation of federal funding and congressional seats. An accurate count is critical to ensuring that federal resources are fairly distributed. The census has long struggled to count communities of color — especially Black and Latino communities. This affects the distribution of Federal resources to communities that most need them.
As noted by the George Washington Institute of Public Policy in its report “Counting for Dollars 2020 – The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds,” about 300 federal programs geographically allocate over $800 billion a year based on census-derived statistics. In FY2015, 37 states forfeited a measurable amount of Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funds for each person missed in the 2010 census. (The five FMAP-guided programs are Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Title IV-E Foster Care, Title IV-E Adoption Assistance, and the Child Care and Development Fund.) In Texas, this translated to a loss of $1,161 per person.
Furthermore, an Urban Institute simulation of the 2020 census offers insights on the 2020 census’ accuracy and utility. In Urban Institute’s simulated 2020 census model, some states had higher percentages of miscounts than others. The true total population of Texas was undercounted in Urban’s simulated 2020 census by 1.28 percent. Because Texas has such a large population, this means that potentially 377,187 residents in the true population of Texas were not counted in the 2020 census. This undercount will have a significant impact on Texas for the next decade. Texas residents will receive less of their fair share of federal funding for infrastructure, health care, and children’s programs. Texas notably would miss an estimated $247 million in federal reimbursements for Medicaid in 2021.
Unfortunately, undercounts are not unusual. Populations along the U.S.- Mexico border region are particularly difficult to reach, especially Hispanic families living in isolated rural colonias. The border colonias were among some of the most undercounted regions in the 2010 census and there are concerns the 2020 census undercount could be similarly large. However, it is important that we work to resolve this issue. Therefore, we request a meeting with you to discuss this issue further. Thank you for taking the time to consider our concerns. We look forward to your response.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar
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