This article originally appeared in the Austin American Stateman:
By Mary Huber
In the absence of any state effort to ensure people are counted in the upcoming 2020 census, more than 120 nonprofits have stepped up to create a campaign to fill the gaps in Texas.
Texas Counts — a collaboration between the Austin-based, left-leaning think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Dallas-based charitable organization Communities Foundation of Texas — officially launched Wednesday in downtown Austin, announcing more than $1.3 million in grants available to local communities and organizations to help with census outreach.
The grants, which range from $15,000 to $100,000, will be available for such things as text messaging campaigns, mobile outreach or to create complete count committees in rural areas in Texas — all of which will seek to help ensure everyone is counted in the upcoming census. The deadline to apply for the grants is Jan. 31.
The census, which occurs every 10 years, helps determine how more than $900 billion in federal money is allocated annually to states and local governments for such things as infrastructure, transportation projects, education, health care and housing vouchers. According to the center, even a 1% undercount could result in the loss of billions of dollars to Texas.
Despite these wide-reaching implications, the state did not give any money to outreach efforts, killing several bills in the last legislative session that would have allocated funds for a Texaswide effort. Other states, like California, have set aside millions for the undertaking.
“The implications for an undercount are dramatic, both in terms of missing out on a share of federal resources and missing out on congressional representation,” John Fitzpatrick, executive director of Educate Texas, an initiative of the Communities Foundation. “The moment is now for us to come together.”
Many local communities already have set up complete count committees to organize outreach in their areas, including Austin and Travis County, which together have put $600,000 to the effort.
For places without committees, the Texas Counts campaign, through its website, texascounts.org, will distribute important information, like brochures and data sheets, to help with outreach, specifically to such hard-to-count demographics as young children, minorities, people who are undocumented and homeless people.
Census volunteers are anticipating having an even more difficult time in 2020 reaching immigrant communities, after months of debate about whether a citizenship question would be included on the census form. (It won’t.)
Census questionnaires will begin arriving in mailboxes as early as March. People also will be able to fill out the forms online, which Regional U.S. Census Bureau Manager Christine Curran said should help with the response rate. Starting in July, census takers will go door-to-door to tally anyone who has not responded.
Census data is used for redistricting, and Texas, which has seen enormous growth over the last decade, stands to gain three congressional seats as a result of the count. The data also affects where businesses decide to invest, expand and set up operations, including new corporate hubs, said Kimberly Walton with the North Texas Commission.
“So much is at stake for Texas businesses and Texas families,” Center for Public Policy Priorities CEO Ann Beeson said Wednesday. “Representatives of every major community sector have joined Texas Counts because we know jobs, housing, schools, libraries, roads and more depend on an accurate and complete census count.”
The Texas Count campaign anticipates raising more money over the next few months to distribute as grants. The nonprofit Hogg Foundation for Mental Health also has set aside $2 million for local communities census outreach. The deadline to apply for those grants already has passed, and awards will be announced soon.