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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