Getting Ready for the 2020 Census

By Scott Richter: Benton-Franklin Trends Staff

The decennial census, required by the U.S. Constitution, ultimately creates indispensable data at the national, state, county, municipal and sub-municipal levels. 

According to census.gov, the census attempts to count every person in the U.S. where they “live and sleep.” More than just a simple population count, the census determines the number of U.S. House of Representative seats for each state, assists the redrawing of state legislative district boundaries, and is the basis for the distribution e of more than $675 billion in federal funds annually to support states, counties and communities’ vital programs — impacting housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy.

Questions on the decennial census are to be submitted to the U.S. Congress no later than two-years before the census occurs. The 98-page document can be accessed here. In this document, each question includes interesting factoids, such as what year each question first appeared on the census, what specific data will be created from the response, and how the results help communities.

Questions asked on the census produce the data found on the American FactFinder website, which is the data source for 29 indicators on Benton-Franklin Trends, or about 16% of the total number of indicators on the website.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The decennial census is the largest mobilization and operation conducted in the United States and requires years of research, planning, and development of methods and infrastructure to ensure an accurate and complete count.”

Of course, the decennial census requires planning and mobilization at the federal level, but without the same planning and mobilization at the local level, it would be difficult or impossible to fulfill the U.S. Constitutional mandate of conducting a census every 10-years.  

In Washington State, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) “serves as the liaison between the state and the U.S. Census Bureau, acts as an advocate on census-related issues for Washington and facilitates the bureau’s mission of achieving a complete, accurate 2020 census count.”

Under the OFM, Complete Count Committees are being created with the purpose of bringing “together community leaders to ensure a complete count of residents in the targeted area.” Complete Count Committees seek to combine” the expertise and knowledge of a representative group of local community, business, philanthropic, and elected leaders to strategize about how to:

  • Educate Washington state residents about the census
  • Explain innovations…and dispel myths
  • Engender trust in the process
  • Encourage and ensure self-response and cooperation with census workers”

For the Benton-Franklin area, LoAnne Ayers, President of the United Way of Benton & Franklin Counties, is leading the local Complete Census Count Committee.

What’s at stake? During Fiscal Year 2016 in Washington State, federal funds distributed based on census results were $16.7 billion, with the top-5 programs: Medicaid, Federal Direct Student Loans, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicare - Part B, and Highway Planning & Construction. On a per capita basis in the state during FY 2016, federal funds distributed in Washington came to approximately $2,321.