By Kathryn Hazelett

Every 10 years, the United States counts its people – all of them. This is the census and it’s happening again in 2020. There is an entire government entity centered on the census – it’s that important. The census looks not only at the number of people in the United States, but also where we live, who lives with us, our race and ethnicity, and what we do.

Why exactly do we count everyone? As we recently noted in our Advocacy 101 series, the US Constitution sets forth that this is the way we will determine the apportionment of the representatives in the US House. The actual ins and outs and newer requirements of the census are codified in the United States Code. The census is also used to draw state house and senate districts.

OK, so it’s important to make sure that we’re appropriately represented in Congress and that our state House and Senate districts reflect where we live, but does this count matter for any other reason? YES!

And, that YES! is a big part of why it is so important to be counted in 2020.

Not only do we use this count to determine how many seats we’ll have in the US House, but everything from highway funding to education and child care funding depends on this once-in-a-decade count. If we don’t count all of us, we could lose out on trail funding, on Medicaid dollars, and on affordable housing program funding.

In fact, if we count 99 percent of us, but leave out 1 percent, Arkansas stands to lose up to $750M in funds over the 10-year period before we count again.

Census results also have a major impact on the work of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) like Southern that focus most of their work in low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities and neighborhoods. Federal agencies use census data to calculate which areas are LMI for programs like Community Development Block Grants and the Community Reinvestment Act.

An undercount is a possibility this year. Much of the count will be completed online. In our rural state with low broadband access and communications challenges, this presents a real problem, especially since recent court rulings on the controversial citizenship question seem to have delayed printing of paper census surveys.

We’re fortunate that a coalition of folks is working hard to make sure that every Arkansan is counted – Arkansas Counts. Follow and support their work, and be counted, Arkansas!

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