Nancy Vaughan column: Every person in every community matters

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Nancy Vaughan- For The Herald Bulletin- Sep 23, 2019
In Fiscal Year 2015 the state of Indiana received $11,061,770,386 (yes, billions) through 16 large federal assistance programs that distribute based on census counts. Those programs include Medicaid, Medicare Part B, SNAP, highway planning and construction, Title 1 education funding, the national school lunch program, special education, Section 8 Housing, State Children’s Health Insurance (S-CHIP), foster care, Head Start, Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), health centers and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and children (WIC).
The state also received $724,111,934 in Fiscal Year 2016 through six rural assistance programs: housing and rent assistance, electrification, water and waste disposal systems, business and industry loans and cooperative extension, all of which use census data to inform funding distribution.
Dozens of other programs at the state and national level use census data to distribute funds for education, transportation, business development, and other health and support services. Nonprofit organizations use the data to support private grant requests and for research (such as the United Way’s ALICE report) to direct services to meet the most essential needs. Businesses use the data to support infrastructure and other investments.
The census is a huge endeavor currently underway to identify every residential unit across the country. It will be followed next spring by an even bigger lift that depends on all of us. It is a given that there will be an undercount. The larger the gap, the larger the impact on communities due to lost investments over a decade. Local governments, educators, nonprofit providers and others are working to get the word out that the census matters to everyone and everyone counts — every age, race, status.
The message is this: When you get the form, count all people living in the residence, even if they’re there on a temporary or part-time basis if they have no other permanent address; even if they are not citizens or relatives. An estimated 2 million children were uncounted in 2010. Children — especially children under the age of 5 — are one of the most undercounted groups. Leaving them out of the count impacts their entire childhoods. Frequently children are not counted because there is confusion on when and who should count them. If they are living with relatives other than parents, or split time between parents, or are in a temporary living situation, the person completing the census for the household may think they cannot be counted.
Other populations that are at risk of being undercounted are immigrants, minorities and low-income people. Fear, misinformation, transient housing situations and lack of understanding negatively impact participation. The fear factor has been heightened this year due to the discussion of adding a citizen question to the 2020 form. It’s important to know that the question has NOT been included, but also to know that the Census Bureau collects information solely to produce statistics.
Personal information cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court. Disclosure of any private information that identifies an individual or business is subject to a penalty of up to five years in prison and up to $250,000.
The census matters to our community and to every person in it. Please participate.