Guest Post: Census 2020 – Connecticut’s avoidable fiscal problem

This op-ed was first published in the Connecticut Mirror.

Connecticut is at risk of missing out on billions of dollars of federal revenue it should rightfully receive.  The reason: many state residents will needlessly be undercounted in the upcoming Census.

Why is Connecticut poised for an undercount? Many states have responded to the federal government’s lack of planning and resources by investing millions of dollars of their own resources toward Census outreach. For example, our neighbor to the west, New York, has allocated $60 million – more than $3 per resident. In contrast, Connecticut has committed $500,000, or 14 cents per resident, out of its $21.2 billion operating budget.

Though many of the state’s philanthropic organizations quickly and generously committed a matching amount of financial support to add to Connecticut’s total, this represents significantly less than the generally accepted standard of at least $1 per person in Census expenditure, or approximately $3.7 million for Connecticut. Simply stated, the state’s financial commitment is insufficient to meet the complex realities of the task ahead.

As members of Connecticut’s philanthropic sector, we are stewards of the charitable funds that have been designated to improve our communities. Our organizations are working together to support an agenda to catalyze inclusive urban opportunity and economic growth throughout the state.  This simply cannot be accomplished without adequate federal resources.

Unfortunately, federal funding for the Census effort has been slashed from previous years. As a result, Census field operations are overwhelmed trying to cover the array of tasks required for successful counts. Moreover, the federal administration’s efforts to include a citizenship question on the Census forced a crucial delay on some of the fundamental preparation required for a complete count.

Recognizing the crucial role the Census plays in bringing federal funds to our state, philanthropy have been a major contributor to the complete Census count efforts in Connecticut – both financially and on the ground in our communities.  At this point, however, Connecticut remains significantly underprepared for a complete Census count of our residents, posing a serious threat of losing billions in federal funding.

State and local officials have established Count Complete Committees comprised of municipal officials, community organizations and residents.  Yet while these efforts provide valuable structure and support to communicate the importance of the Census, they presently appear to be insufficient for the enormous and challenging task at hand. For example, many people who are at risk of being undercounted live in “hard-to-count” Census tracts that had low response rates to the 2010 Census.

More than one in five Connecticut residents live in these hard-to-count areas including more than half of Latinx (54 percent) and Black (55 percent) residents.  If Connecticut is to receive its rightful share of federal funding over the next decade, resources must be earmarked to reach those who have been historically undercounted, including people who may be reluctant to share information about citizenship and other demographic details.

Best practices dictate that effective Census outreach efforts involve grassroots, door-to-door outreach from trusted neighborhood-based organizations made up of local residents who live in these neighborhoods. Connecticut’s philanthropic sector is eager to work with the state and the recipients of state Census funding to identify and engage these trusted entities.

Every year, roughly $675 billion in federal funds are disbursed to states, based on formulas rooted in the decennial Census. Connecticut currently pays more federal income tax per capita than any other state in the nation, but we rank near the bottom in terms of attracting federal funds back into much needed state programs. If our residents are undercounted in 2020, we will receive even fewer federal dollars in each of the next ten years – despite the growing need in our communities.

In Fiscal Year 2016, Connecticut received more than $10.7 billion from the Federal Government, including funds to support vital programs for state residents related to education, health care, nutrition assistance, and housing. A generally accepted estimate is that each person who is not counted results in a loss of nearly $3,000 per year for Connecticut and its residents. Reduced federal funding due to a Census undercount will require increased tax burdens and decreased services across the state. Higher taxes and reduced services will exacerbate existing economic and social challenges, and potentially create new problems that the state is currently working hard to avoid.

It is very late in the game, but there is still an opportunity for Connecticut policymakers and municipalities, to provide additional resources. Working together with philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, the state can develop and execute a comprehensive plan to secure a complete Census count, as other states have done.

This critical decision should be uncontroversial and merit strong bipartisan support.  It is in the state’s own self-interest to make a comparatively tiny and once-in-a decade investment of an additional $2 million to help ensure that it collects all of the $10+ billion Connecticut would likely receive annually from the federal government if our residents are fully counted.

Connecticut’s fiscal future hangs in the balance.

Jay Williams is President of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. 
Maryam Elahi, Community Foundation of Easter Connecticut
David J. Obedzinski, Community Foundation of Greater New Britain
Julie Loughran, Connecticut Community Foundation
Juanita James, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation
William Ginsberg, Greater New Haven Community Foundation
Laura McCargar, Perrin Family Foundation
Frances G. Padilla, Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut
R. David Addams, William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund