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The Census Is a Year Away: How State Legislators are Ensuring a Fair & Accurate Count

March 2019

DENVER, Colo. – Advocates across the nation are recognizing April 1, 2019, as Census Day of Action, marking a year until the 2020 Census begins. Every ten years, the federal government conducts a census to track changes in population and demography, and this data is used for important determinations related to how federal, state, and local actors allocate their resources, essential public research, and the determination of future political representation. State legislators play a crucial role in ensuring that all people count.

Census data determine the allocation of more than $800 billion in annual federal funding and are often used in state and local policy making, decision making, and research. An inaccurate census in 2020 would jeopardize funding for a range of programs and services like fire departments, highways, hospitals, and the national school lunch program. It would also compromise crucial supports for all communities – white, black, and brown alike. Census data are also used for the processes to draw local, state and federal political maps – known as reapportionment and redistricting – and therefore are vital to advancing a fair and representative democracy.

“Progressive lawmakers across the country are using their voices and their positions to ensure every single resident in their state is counted, fairly, accurately and without fear in 2020,” said SiX Executive Director Jessie Ulibarri. “State legislators recognize that critical resources and electoral representation are at stake for their communities. We recognize that all people must count and applaud legislators who are dedicating resources to reach hard-to-count groups such as communities of color, low-income communities, immigrants, and young children.”

Below is an overview of various state legislation to support a fair and accurate census. So far this year, at least 59 bills from 25 states have been introduced to support 2020 Census preparation and participation. Most bills aim to do one or more of the following:

  • Authorize state Complete Count Committees
  • Fund Census outreach programs with an emphasis on hard-to-count communities
  • Condemn the inclusion of the citizenship question
  • End prison gerrymandering

State Complete Count Committees (CCCs): CCCs are encouraged to reflect each state’s diversity and will work to raise awareness of the Census, develop messaging plans tailored to their constituents, identify and engage hard-to-count communities, and motivate full participation in 2020.

  • There are currently at least 14 bills from eight states that would establish state CCCs (Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia). These are in addition to the nearly 20 states that have successfully established CCCs through legislation, executive order, or a combination of the two over the last two years.
  • A notable bill in Massachusetts would create a Massachusetts Census Equity Commission with a particular focus on undercounted communities. The bill proposes a diverse and distinctive set of membership requirements, including appointees from the Senate Black and Latino Caucus and House Asian Legislative Caucus; representatives from agencies and organizations serving refugees and homeless persons; a representative from the Wampanoag tribe; and youth, elderly, and renter representatives.

Citizenship Question: Perhaps the most visible and controversial aspect of 2020 Census preparation has been the Trump administration’s last-minute attempt to add an untested citizenship question—a move that would depress participation by noncitizens and mixed-immigration-status households and reduce census accuracy.

  • Legislators in Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada, and Pennsylvania have introduced resolutions this year that declare strong opposition to the citizenship question and urge the federal government not to include it on the 2020 questionnaire.

Fund the Census and Reach Hard-to-Count Communities: Legislators across the country are proposing substantial appropriations for census education and outreach efforts that target hard-to-count communities. By funding robust outreach and preparation today, states can secure millions—or possibly billions—of federal dollars in the future.

  • A bill recently introduced in Colorado (CO HB19-1239) would establish a 2020 Census outreach grant program with a budget of $12 million to fund local governments and community organizations “to conduct 2020 census outreach, promotion, and education to focus on hard-to-count communities in the state and to increase the self-response rate and accuracy of the 2020 census.”
  • Illinois lawmakers have proposed at least six bills that would appropriate substantial funding for census outreach and education efforts. Proposed appropriations range from $17 million to $33 million.
  • Over the last two years, the California legislature has appropriated over $100 million dollars for census activities through several bills.
  • Minnesota legislators (2019 MN HF 1644) are working to ensure that Census Bureau employees have access to apartment buildings and other residential facilities. Renters and individuals living in multi-unit buildings are often hard-to-count, and are therefore undercounted, in the census

Ending Prison Gerrymandering: The practice of counting incarcerated Americans as residents of the town where they are imprisoned rather than in their home community distorts local and state representation and leads to a hidden transfer of political power from urban to rural areas.

  • At least 15 bills from 11 states have been introduced that would end prison gerrymandering and count incarcerated individuals at their last known home address. These bills have been proposed in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas, and have already passed one legislative chamber in New Jersey (2019 NJ S 758) and Washington (2019 WA SB 5287).

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The State Innovation Exchange (SiX) is a national resource and strategy center that supports state legislators who seek to strengthen our democracy, fight for working families, defend civil rights and liberties, and protect the environment. We do this by providing training, emphasizing leadership development, amplifying legislators’ voices, and forging strategic alliances between our legislative network and grassroots movements.