MCALLEN, RGV – The State of California has allotted $100 million to help get an accurate count in next year’s census. This is in sharp contrast to the State of Texas, which has so far committed zero dollars.

The City of Houston is committed to spending $6 million, with $800,000 earmarked for kiosks.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the cities of McAllen and Harlingen have each allocated $25,000 for census outreach work, while Weslaco has allocated $10,000 this year and $15,000 next year. Cameron County has allocated $25,000 this fiscal year, and $120,000 next year.

These and other statistics about the 2020 Census were relayed to McAllen Economic Development Corporation by Ana Leonard, partnership coordinator in the Dallas regional census center. 

“The State of Texas has not created a budget yet for census efforts. The state of California has. They have allotted $100 million. They want to make sure they get a piece of the $675 billion that goes out to the states every year,” Leonard told MEDC, in a presentation at the start of a recent board meeting.

“We are working to make sure the State of Texas does some sort of effort, (such as set up) a complete count committee. There is a bill that has been introduced (in the legislature) to fund some efforts.”

Census Day is April 1, 2020. Securing an accurate census count is important for cities and states because a lot of federal funding is allocated based on population.

“The State of Texas receives $43 billion in federal funding every year. That is approximately $1,578 per person in your community. If you multiply $1,578 by four for a family of four and then multiply it by ten, that is the amount of money you stand to lose for your family if they are not counted,” Leonard said. 

“So, it is very important that we receive the federal funds that we are entitled to, based on our count.”

Leonard said she attended a City of McAllen meeting the other night and one of the first things commissioners asked her was whether the State of Texas would kick in funding for census outreach work.

“We are working on that. We don’t have an answer but we hope to soon and we hope they (the State of Texas) will allot some monies,” Leonard said.

Leonard pointed out that the Census Bureau does not come to communities to ask for monies to participate in census outreach. 

“All we ask is that each of you be a census ambassador, to help us advocate for the 2020 Census. All of you have access to employees, to communities such as your church, your rotary groups, your schools.”

Leonard said she expected McAllen EDC board members to understand the significance of an accurate census count because many of them rely on data provided by the Census Bureau when making investment decisions.

After her remarks, Keith Patridge, president of MEDC, said securing a full and accurate census count is vitally important. “We use the data when we are trying to attract a company. So, having good, accurate information is very important to us. Work with your employees so they understand the importance of the census,” Patridge told the MEDC board.

Patridge is on the Hidalgo County complete count committee and has been asked to help with the City of McAllen’s version also.

Leonard acknowledged the Valley is a tough place to get a full and accurate census count.

“Unfortunately, we have the perfect storm here in the Rio Grande Valley, which is hard-to-count demographics. Let’s go over them. No. 1, high poverty, No. 2, high mobility, No. 3, limited English proficiency, No. 4, foreign born, they may not always know the importance of a census. We also have a big distrust of the federal government.”

Leonard said she was in Corpus Christi earlier in the week talking to a community member. She said he told her that it is very easy to get executives on board, participating with census outreach work because they use the data and they understand the importance of it. 

“But, how easy is it to get the mom who works at, let’s say, a daycare and has three kids and is a single parent. She may not understand the importance of a form that is asking her for data,” Leonard said. 

The first census count in the United States took place in 1790, Leonard said. Census 2020 will be the first census where the Internet can play a roll. However, Leonard noted that some people are concerned about cybersecurity.

“Our data is encrypted 17 times before it gets to our servers. The form has only one PII, that is personally identifiable information, and that is your date of birth. Everything else is public information, such as your name, your race, your sex.”

In addition to completing the census over the internet, residents can also do so via telephone or in paper form, Leonard said. “You will still get a form in the mail, but only if you have a U.S. mailable address. If you have a PO Box, unfortunately, we cannot tie PO Boxes to home addresses, there is no correlation.” That said, post offices could have posters and kiosks, she noted.

First time in history, cities will be able to track the response rate by census tract, Leonard said. Census 2020 goes live on March 12, 2020, she said, with the final date for completing the form being July 24, 2020.

“So, your community will have four months to respond to the census. We find that self-response is the most accurate but we also know that our community may need help in completing their form. Our population here in the Valley usually gets help to fill out things.”

Leonard noted that the Valley does not have a lot of resources to devote to census outreach.

“The City of Houston has allotted $6 million, City of McAllen has allotted $25,000. The City of McAllen is doing an amazing job but you can see the disparity between cities. The City of Houston will spend $800,000 just on kiosks throughout their city to make sure people respond.”

Asked by the Rio Grande Guardian which other Valley cities are spending money on census outreach, Leonard said: “Cameron County has allocated $25,000 this fiscal year and $120,000 next fiscal year. Harlingen $25,000, Weslaco, $10,000 this year, $15,000 next fiscal year. Hidalgo County has not said yet but the judge has allotted money to their efforts. They are working on a very good marketing effort.”

Leonard reiterated that the Census Bureau is hoping the State of Texas helps by allocating funds for a statewide complete count committee. “The goal is to get a dollar amount. We have over 200 counties in the state of Texas who are all asking for monies,” she said. 

In the Q&A part of the presentation, McAllen EDC chairwoman Laura Warren asked if there would be any TV commercials to help educate non-citizens on the importance of the census.

Leonard responded that Title 1 funding is tied to census data.

“All of our schools are Title 1 and they have free and reduced lunch for the kids. Make sure you state the relevance of the money to the community member. We have a $400 million marketing campaign that was awarded to Young & Rubicam. It has not been pushed out yet but I was happy to be part of the focus group two weeks ago here in the Rio Grande Valley. I saw some of their commercials, in English and in Spanish. And, the members of the group were from the Rio Grande Valley. They were multiple generation or single generation. The commercials are being very targeted to the populations we are trying to reach. That campaign should be out late fall or early Spring.”

J.C. Cervantes, president of the McAllen Evening Rotary Club, believes the caravans coming north through Mexico are coordinated. He asked Leonard if those on the caravans would be counted under Census 2020 if they reach the United States.

Leonard responded: “The refugee population is counted. It is counted by a process called administrative task. The Census Bureau contacts the organization that is in charge of detaining them or is responsible for housing them. And, we get a list of the names, just like in a prison, or a halfway house or a nursing home. Those are called group quarters.”

Leonard finished her presentation by saying children get the most money tied to census data.

“They are what we call multiple category recipients. The child will receive free lunch at their elementary school, then they will get Medicaid, then they will get stamp benefits.” She also said funding for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is also tied to census data, though the money is funneled through the states.

“It is coming,” Leonard said, of Census Day, 2020. “I call it the tsunami that is coming. We really have to keep everybody engaged. It really is a campaign to change hearts and minds and reassure the community that it is okay to participate. It is absolutely necessary and it really is going to set the tone of the next ten years. So, a year of investment for a ten-year return.”