With census extension, Houston barely escapes yet another disaster

On August 25th, Hurricane Laura’s path shifted, sparing Houston from a historic disaster. Late Thursday night, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh delivered us from another catastrophe, preventing the Trump administration from ending the census a month early.

Currently, only 57.9% of Houstonians have responded to the census online, by phone, or by mail, far fewer than the current national self-response rate of 66.3%. Experts estimate that each uncounted resident costs the area $1,500 in federal funding, putting Houston at risk of losing billions in critical federal dollars.

A census undercount wouldn’t leave the physical signs of destruction that storms leave in their wakes, but the consequences for the most vulnerable members of our community are just as profound and long-lasting.

The Census determines the distribution of power and tax dollars for the next ten years. With a full count, Houston could gain up to two Congressional seats, and our fair share of an estimated $880 billion for critical programs and infrastructure for communities. This includes essential funding for public health, public safety, housing, and programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and Pell grants for college students. Federal dollars also go towards public schools, school lunches, and special education programs for children.

One of the challenges in talking about the consequences of an undercount is that its impacts will mostly go unseen. But they will be felt — and as one of the country’s most diverse cities in terms of race and nationality, Houston cannot afford to be undercounted. An undercount means more of our children will go hungry and more of our most vulnerable residents will find healthcare inaccessible.

During COVID, it also means that we fail to receive the dollars we need for public health programs, job training, and housing relief. An undercount will lead to disparities in how relief programs like the CARES Act are distributed. CARES Act funding brought in more than $404 million for the city of Houston in the form of federal Coronavirus aid. This money, which provided critical dollars for the city’s rent relief program in the face of a nationwide rent crisis, was based on numbers from the 2010 Census.

The census crisis we’re in is entirely man-made, precipitated by documented efforts from federal authorities to undermine the count and the failure of the state of Texas to allocate any funding for outreach to hard-to-count-communities, leaving Harris County and Houston to put up the resources to get out the census. And even though this is a crisis not of our own making, we all have a responsibility now to do all we can to complete the count. Houston’s next decade depends on it.

Make sure you’re counted for the census at 2020census.gov.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store