Census 2020: Philanthropy Counts

The Census

The next U.S. census will begin on April 1, 2020. Every ten years, the census aims to count every resident in the United States and capture critical population data. This data is used to determine how political representation is apportioned, the way state and federal dollars are distributed, and other matters.

Getting a complete census count is crucial. In Maryland, every person not counted equates to $1,821 in lost federal funding every year, or $18,210 per uncounted person over ten years. This census faces unique challenges for attaining a complete count including, a shift in the reporting process, competing with national and local primary elections, and for the first time since 1950, there was an attempt to add a question regarding U.S. Citizenship status.

Given our political climate, many communities are still hesitant about filling out the census. This can result in a large undercount for populations across the state and nation. The role of philanthropy is critical in maintaining that the census is above politics and that a complete count supports the creation of conditions where communities can thrive.

Historically Undercounted Groups

 Hard-to-count communities vary from community-to-community but have historically been undercounted and/or do not self-report as well as others. Examples of hard-to-count populations include persons of color, recent immigrants, young children, renters, and low-income households. Researchers use participation rates in prior census cycles to help identify hard-to-count communities. This interactive map from City University of New York is a great tool that lets you search your community and get data on what neighborhoods require specific attention.

What’s at Stake in Maryland?

The state of Maryland receives billions of dollars from the U.S. Government to run programs for Marylanders. The federal government relies on census data in whole or in part to calculate how to distribute these funds. These programs range from Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP to Federal Direct Student Loans and the Federal Pell Grant Program. Census data also guides funding for highway planning and construction, community development block grants, and more! It's easy to see that if the U.S. Census doesn’t get an accurate count of our population, then crucial programs won't have the support they need from government grants to serve their entire community. 

The George Washington Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University compiled two helpful fact sheets on Census funds in Maryland: Federal Funds from Five Key Census-Guided Programs and Counting Dollars for 2020- Maryland.

Legal Protections for Census Confidentiality

The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code. This law provides authority for the U.S. Census Bureau and provides strong protection for the information collected from individuals and businesses. As a result, the Census Bureau has one of the strongest confidentiality guarantees in the federal government.

It is against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any census or survey information that identifies an individual or business. This is true even for inter-agency communication: the FBI and other government entities do not have the legal right to access this information. In fact, when these protections have been challenged, Title 13's confidentiality guarantee has been upheld.

For more information about how the Census Bureau safeguards the data it collects, visit the agency's Data Protection website.

How to Get Involved

Complete Count Committees (CCC) are volunteer committees established by tribal, state, and local governments and community leaders or organizations to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census. CCCs serve as state and local “census ambassador” groups that play an integral part in ensuring a complete and accurate count of the community in the 2020 Census.” Read more about CCCs on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2020 Census Complete Count Committee Guide. Find each Maryland county's CCC point of contact here.

Funding Collaborative: For funders interested in supporting Census outreach through aligned grantmaking, a pooled fund, or using MPN as a passthrough to reach trusted messengers, please email Ybodegeorge@MarylandPhilanthropy.org.