By Clare S. Richie, public policy specialist, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
The U.S. Census is coming up in 2020 and it’s not too early to start planning. Census data touches our lives daily, such as how much federal funding Georgia receives for critical programs like Medicaid or SNAP, which public school our children are zoned to attend, where a business decides to relocate to and more.
Nonprofit organizations can play an important part to get the word out about the importance of participating in the census. They can also use census data to ensure that their programs stay up to date with the changing demographic trends that will emerge.
To raise awareness about the 2020 census and sound a call for action, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, the Sapelo Foundation, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP), Georgia Grantmakers Alliance and Georgia Center for Nonprofits recently hosted learning sessions for funders and nonprofits.
These events highlighted the importance of census data. Namely, it’s used to apportion U.S. House of Representative seats, draw lines for congressional, state legislative and school districts, distribute $700 billion in federal funds annually and to inform decisions made by business, nonprofits and government.
An individual not counted is a 10-year mistake, with each missed person in Georgia costing an estimated $13,390 in forgone federal funds over that period. Historically, the census has undercounted racial minorities, immigrants, young children and the poor, leading to inequality in political power, government funding and private investment.
The 2020 census faces unprecedented challenges, including inadequate federal funding, reliance on on-line forms and widespread government distrust, as national census expert, Teri Ann Lowenthal, explained in these sessions.
With so much at stake, FCCP Deputy Director, Alexis Anderson-Reed, suggested how funders and nonprofits, both trusted voices in the community, can play a role in ensuring a fair and accurate count. Ideas ranged from weaving the 2020 census into current grantmaking or get-out-the-vote efforts, to raising a pooled fund to support new get-out-the-count efforts.
Since that convening, two major federal decisions were made. Congress funded the 2020 Census at a responsible level for the remainder of the fiscal year. Subsequently, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added a citizenship question to the 2020 census form, in response to a request from the Department of Justice.
Roughly 120 foundations, including the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to express opposition, concerned that an untested new question at this point in the planning could undermine a fair and accurate count. Funders and other advocates are now exploring how to address the inclusion of the citizen question, while also planning how to count every person if it remains. We will continue to follow these important developments.
The United Philanthropy Forum has a great resource that ties the census directly to its potential impact on philanthropy: CENSUS 2020: Why an Accurate Count Matters to Philanthropy.
For more information on how nonprofits can get involved with planning for the upcoming census, check out this video.