EDITORIAL: The importance of counting everyone in RGV Census

Since 1790, as required by the U.S. Constitution, a Census has been conducted every decade to provide the federal government with valuable information on our population. Information that affects most areas of our lives, from federal funding for states and local districts, to congressional representation in Washington, D.C., to even the number of judges for a region.

But nearly 230 years into this process, there are some real concerns about the upcoming 2020 Census. Namely, operational changes and funding cutbacks being discussed by the Trump Administration that could adversely affect high-poverty areas and those with a high percentage of minority residents, like the Rio Grande Valley. And that makes it more incumbent upon local leaders to work aggressively now to help circumvent problems prior to the count.

While we commend President Donald Trump for wanting to explore modern ways to utilize technology for the 2020 count, we are concerned that some of these changes are not realistic for all areas. Asking families to self-report online, for example, won’t work well in low-income areas where residents do not have computers or internet service.

Self-reporting also could be difficult when English is not a first language. And there are serious concerns here that families in the RGV who have members who are not legal citizens also will be reluctant to fill out data if Census workers do not canvas neighborhoods, as they typically have done in the past, knocking on doors.

So we ask the president and his staff — as well as Congress — to budget thoughtfully and to recognize the need for on-the-ground Census counters and heavy bilingual outreach program, especially in areas like South Texas.

We also call upon local leaders here to continue to work with community groups and officials in Washington, D.C., in preparation for the count, which begins on April 1, 2020.

It will arrive sooner than you think.

We congratulate Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia who in September hosted a 2020 Census Coalition meeting with local mayors on this topic.

We encourage local leaders to be in attendance for another meeting scheduled for Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at Hidalgo County Commissioners Court in Edinburg where a Census representative will help walk them through necessary preliminary signup information.

This is especially important as Dec. 15 is the deadline for Hidalgo County (and all municipalities) to register with the Local Update of Census (LUCA) operation. This will allow counties and municipalities to submit addresses to be included in the next Census.

At Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Garcia rightly stressed the importance of the 2020 Census in light of the vast population increases the RGV has seen, which we cannot accurately quantify, yet.

“We need to make sure we get properly counted because, in the end, that’s the key to making sure we get all the entitlements that this area should get,” Garcia said.

A report released last week by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the “State of Texas Children 2017 Child Wellbeing in the Rio Grande Valley,” estimated that the number of children here will increase to more than 600,000 by 2050. That includes 415,000 in Hidalgo County and 213,000 in Cameron County. This is up from 2015 figures of 280,200 and 141,000 respectively.

But we won’t know for sure, if families here aren’t counted. And, more importantly, lawmakers in Washington won’t put aside the necessary funding for our region if we are under-represented.

Michael Seifert, of the ACLU of Texas and Equal Voice Network, said last week at a healthcare conference held by the CPPP in Edinburg — which was held to tout the new report — that for every family not counted in the 2020 Census, an estimated $100,000 will be lost for our region.

“So it’s $1 million if we miscount 10 family units. We are set up to lose all that money,” Seifert said. “There’s enormous issues that are not being addressed.”

Yes there are and we need to be ahead of this issue, which could greatly affect us for years to come.