When it comes to ensuring a safety net, Massachusetts families are counting on us.
Families in Massachusetts who are living in poverty count on federal assistance to help them meet basic human needs such as food and fuel assistance, safe, affordable housing, and childcare assistance that empowers low-income families to work. But too often, the families who need help are the same ones who go uncounted in the U.S. Census efforts – which can end up costing Massachusetts millions of dollars and even worse, leave their basic needs unmet. Here’s why the 2020 census is so important.
“The 2020 Census impacts all of us; if we are under-counted, we will all suffer,” said Eva Millona, executive director of United Way partner agency the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and Chair of the 2020 Complete Count Committee in this State House News Service article. “Nonprofits need to work together to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
the impact of the 2020 census
The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network estimates that for every person not counted on the census, Massachusetts will lose $2,400 in federal resources. And according to MNN, census data drives the distribution of over $16 billion in federal funding to Massachusetts for critical services. Here is a snapshot of critical federal programs whose funding to state and local government is based on U.S. Census data:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (federal food assistance)
- School breakfast and Lunch programs
- Low- to moderate-income housing loans
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance (heating/fuel assistance)
- Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant (childcare assistance)
- Special Education funds to serve children with disabilities
- Title I funding to help local school districts improve both teaching and learning of low-income children in schools
However, many families in need live in neighborhoods that have been identified by advocacy groups as “hard-to-count census tracts.” For example, the advocacy group Mass Counts estimates that 85% of residents of the City of Lynn live in hard-to-count census tracts. This puts $2.4 million in funding for affordable housing, $34 million in funding for community health centers, and $2.4 million of funding to Community Action Program (CAP agencies) who administer fuel and childcare assistance to Lynn-area families.
Areas are deemed hard to count based on low response rates via mail from the 2010 U.S. Census, or areas that have high concentrations of children under age 5, households with poor internet access, and high numbers of recent immigrants. The lack of internet access is especially significant for the 2020 Census count, which will be administered 100 percent online.
According to the Boston Indicators Project of the Boston Foundation, Boston is the ninth hardest-to-count city among the largest 100 cities nationwide. Other urban areas in Massachusetts, especially Gateway Cities like Lawrence and Fall River, also have very low Census return rates. Last spring, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a year-long initiative to reach recent immigrants, renters, college students and other hard-to-count populations.
Fear and mistrust in government also play a large role in undercounting. The Lynn Item reports “one of the biggest barriers for Census 2020 is that undocumented immigrants may be afraid to report themselves, even though they are protected by federal laws that prohibits disclosing census information.” According to the Item, Millona noted at a community-wide meeting this fall that there are about 1.5 million immigrants and refugees living in Massachusetts.
Everyone can help ensure Massachusetts can continue to help families in need and receive critical funding for public education, health care, transportation, and housing in the decade to come.
Here’s what you can do:
- Take the “Be Counted” pledge and share this information with neighbors, friends and colleagues.
- Earn extra income and be a Census worker! The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting thousands of people across the country to assist with the 2020 Census count.
- If you are a business, check out how companies can play a role in helping to ensure people are counted and help fulfill CSR goals by checking out this resource.
- If you are a nonprofit, visit Mass Counts, a coalition of community-based organizations working to ensure a complete count, and join your local Complete Count Committee.
For more ways to get involved, visit the resource page at Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.