2020 Census: Federal Funding — and Support for Kids — Tied to Census Count

Posted October 23, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Federal spending on kids in 2015 topped $159 billion on 10 programs alone.

The good news: The 2020 Census is fast approaching!

The not-so-good news: The census has a history of undercounting young kids — and the 2020 survey runs the risk of shortchanging the nation’s official population count by more than 2 million kids younger than age 5, according to experts.

Read about the Census in the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book's foreword

The problem here isn’t just an inaccuracy in a number. It’s an error that could spur budgetary shortfalls in states with long-term and serious consequences for children and families.

That’s because hundreds of federal programs — everything from the National School Lunch Program to the State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program to Head Start — use census data to assess population counts and characteristics and then disburse funds accordingly. Experts estimate that the decennial survey helps to direct some $800 billion in federal funding annually, including more than $160 billion toward child-serving programs.

In 2015, for example, California received some $21.6 billion to support federal programming for kids. Texas received nearly $16.1 billion, New York nearly $10.5 billion, and Florida nearly $8.1 billion.

If the 2020 Census misses more than 2 million kids (about 10% of the nation’s under-5 population today), kids and families in every state stand to lose.

“If we don’t count children, we render their needs invisible and their futures uncertain,” says Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy. “A major census undercount will result in overcrowded classrooms, shuttered Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms and more kids without health care.”

In 2015, 10 of the largest federally funded child-serving programs were:

  1. Medicaid: $60.9 billion 
  2. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP): $29.2 billion
  3. Title I grants to LEAs*: $13.9 billion
  4. National School Lunch Program: $11.6 billion
  5. Special Education Grants: $11.2 billion
  6. State Children’s Health Insurance Program: $11.1 billion
  7. Head Start: $8.3 billion
  8. Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children: $6.3 billion
  9. Foster Care: $4.6 billion
  10. Child Care: $2.9 billion

Recommendations to Improve the Census Count

What can leaders do to support a census that counts all kids?

  • Maximize the capacity of the Census Bureau to count them.
  • Fully fund state and local outreach campaigns focused on their parents.
  • Expand the pool of trusted messengers who can reach hard-to-count families.
  • Make internet access available to families least likely to have it at home.
  • Address privacy and confidentially concerns, particularly for those who are without documentation but are entitled to be counted.

Read the KIDS COUNT Data Bookreleased in June 2018, to learn more about why every kid counts — and why every kid should be counted.

* Title I grants support school and educational agencies with high numbers or high percentages of kids from low-income families.

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