The census holds the key to federal funding, but some communities are harder to accurately count than others. One Colorado grant program could help fix that.
Gov. Jared Polis signed the bipartisan Census Outreach Grant Program into law in May, allocating $6 million in funding to ensure an accurate 2020 census count through community outreach and education programs. Applications open Aug. 15, and many communities in La Plata County will likely be eligible to apply. If they do, a more accurate count could affect the federal funding they receive.
“In general, it’s advantageous for us to have an accurate count when it comes to funding sources from the federal government,” said Chris LaMay, Bayfield town manager.
Bayfield is part of a local committee made up of community representatives from around the county. The committee will consider applying for the grant during its next meeting, likely in July, but it’s too early in the process to make decisions, LaMay said.
In fact, the state-appointed census grant committee met for the first time Monday, and one of its first goals will be to create a policies and procedures resource to help applicants through the process, said Natriece Bryant, deputy executive director for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
The Census Outreach Grant Program will provide state-funded grants for local governments, intergovernmental agencies, councils of government, housing authorities, school districts, nonprofit organizations and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes to do 2020 outreach and educational programs.
These programs will focus on hard-to-count communities, which include people who live in rural areas, areas with poor internet access, children younger than 5 years old, people with low incomes, communities of color, people with limited English abilities and adults 65 years and older.
The 2020 census has been a national hot topic because of a debate about whether to include a citizenship question. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to temporarily block the question. About 1.5 billion census forms will be printed without the question.
The Colorado grant program will continue separately from any delays in the census process, Bryant said.
The census is a key piece of determining how much federal funding Colorado will get for various programs, including Medicaid and Medicare.
Nearly a quarter of Colorado’s population is on Medicaid. Census data has also been tied to federal grants for school meals, rental assistance and affordable housing, emergency recovery grants, rural education and watershed protection programs, among many other things.
Rocco Fuschetto, superintendent for the Ignacio School District, said the district might apply once it knows more about the requirements. Counting students accurately, especially if their families have low incomes, could mean more federal funding for the school district, he wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
For rural communities, there are 55 census-guided rural assistance programs considered in a 2018 report by George Washington University. These programs use census data to see which communities are eligible for different assistance programs, like a U.S. Department of Agriculture low-income housing loans program, federal grants and even interest rates on federal loans.
“For us, it usually comes down to where’s our median income,” LaMay said, adding that in the past, Bayfield’s median income was above the state level. “If our median income was to fall below the state median income, then it would allow us to have access to some additional funds.”
Grant applicants will have from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 to turn in their applications, and the DOLA will announce awardees Nov. 1.