The US Census plays an important role in determining where federal funding will be directed for the next 10 years. For economic development organizations, this impacts the amount of funding available on a state and local level from many programs. This year, the census faces unique challenges due to COVID-19 and an unsupportive presidential administration, which could impact results and subsequently, funding.
According to research from George Washington University, in 2017, over $1.5 trillion in federal funding was allocated based on the results of the census, including Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), the New Markets Tax Credit, the US Small Business Administration HUBZone program, and financial assistance programs supporting housing development such as Section 8 housing vouchers. Based on census data such as population, per capita income, population growth, and density, funding is distributed to the state and local governments where there is most need.
2020 Census Challenges
The 2020 Census has faced numerous logistical and political challenges. These challenges intensified with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently, with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the extended data collection period will end on October 15.
The majority of American households that complete their census responses online, and for these households there will be little impact from COVID-19. But typical census activities aimed to reach “hard-to-count” groups such as in-person data collection, opening field offices, and outreach at soup kitchens, shelters, and other similar services have a higher transmission risk, which means more caution and time is needed to carry them out. These activities focus on marginalized communities including young children, immigrants and minority communities, residents of dense urban areas, people experiencing homelessness and living in informal housing, and people living in remote or rural areas.
Census Integration with Disaster Recovery Efforts
The information gained from the US Census plays a crucial role in supporting natural disaster and economic recovery efforts. Census data is used to determine evacuation routes, establish distribution points for essential supplies, and rescue coordination. After disasters, census data is used to direct disaster relief funding, including funding for emergency response services and programs like CDBG Disaster Recovery Grants. For EDOs working in affected communities, census data plays a key role in determining the amount of federal support that will be available.
Census data also plays an important role in economic recovery efforts during COVID-19. The initial allocation of funding from the CARES Act was partially based on population data about cities and states and census data was used to identify local governments with populations of over 500,000 that were eligible for direct payments. The US Census Bureau also maintains a COVID-19 Data Hub that provides insight into groups that may be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
These are valuable resources for economic recovery after COVID-19, but the continued undercounting of at-risk communities will make this data less accurate. In the years to come, data from the 2020 census will help determine what resources are available to EDOs. At a time when economic recovery efforts are more important than ever, the undercounting of minorities will likely force EDOs to rely on funding from private sources when federal support falls short.