Harris County sets aside up to $3.9 million for 2020 Census outreach

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On Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court unanimously approved a budget of up to $3.9 million for the county’s 2020 U.S. Census outreach.

The court also authorized county officials to start contract negotiations with nonprofit organizations who could help boost response rates to the census.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who requested the item and presented it to the court, said the census outreach would cost about $5 for each “hard to count” person in Harris County.

Hidalgo said the last census in 2010 missed about 61,500 people in the county, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result of that undercount Harris County lost access to $68 million a year in federal funding or $680 million between 2010-2020, Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo estimated that the outreach efforts would cost the county about $3 million and give the Houston area access to hundreds of millions in funding over the next decade.

One item left out of the vote was the plan to negotiate a city-county agreement with Houston and its $650,000 contract with Lopez Negrete Communications, a Hispanic-focused marketing company hired to help with census outreach.

In recent months Mayor Sylvester Turner, Hidalgo and other Houston leaders have pushed hard for a more accurate 2020 census count.

“Houston could lose about $1,578 for each person who is not counted,” Turner said during the National census Day of Action in April. “If we undercount 10 percent of the city’s population, we could lose $3.78 billion over the course of a decade.”

Population figures from the census are used to inform federal funding for state and local governments. They also determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In April, Turner penned a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to secure $5 to $10 million in state funding for Census outreach around the state. He argued that Texas was home to many “hard to count” communities, like college towns, rural communities, metro areas, and communities along the southern border.

The local push for better census outreach comes amid a battle by the Trump administration to include a citizenship question in the upcoming survey– a move currently being debated in front of the U.S. Supreme Court by dozens of states, cities and civil rights groups.

Surveying for the census will begin on April 1, 2020.

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