Rep. Pressley Questions Experts on the Importance of Accurate Census Count to Vulnerable Communities

December 4, 2020
Press Release
“As we chart a path for COVID recovery, the census count will serve as a critical data source to ensure the hardest hit communities receive their equitable share.”

Video (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – In a House Oversight Committee hearing yesterday, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), questioned experts on the importance of a holistic and thorough census count and the harmful consequences of an inaccurate count on the fair distribution of federal funding to our hardest-hit communities.

The Congresswoman specifically noted the importance of an accurate count to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which serves 1 in 10 residents in Massachusetts and 1 in 5 households in the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District, and uses census data to help allocate its budget of more than $60 billion.

A full transcript of her question line and exchange with witnesses is below.

Transcript: Rep. Pressley Questions Experts on the Importance of Accurate Census Count to Vulnerable Communities
December 3, 2020
House Committee on Oversight and Reform

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you, Chairwoman Maloney, for convening this hearing with the urgency that it truly deserves. We cannot risk endangering the livelihoods of millions of Americans by compromising the integrity of our Census. The United States of America needs a complete and accurate count of all people. That is what the Constitution demands and it is what my colleagues and I require in order to do our job effectively.

As lawmakers, we rely on population data to inform our policymaking and to ensure that our communities get their fair share of more than $1.5 trillion dollars in funding to support everything from our transportation systems to education and health care infrastructure to small businesses and to nonprofits.

For example, look at SNAP, our nation’s most impactful anti-hunger program. Census data informs how to allocate its budget of more than 60 billion dollars. Across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, SNAP helps 1 in 10 residents. And in my district, one of the most diverse and unequal, the Massachusetts 7th, nearly 1 in 5 households receive SNAP benefits. Food pantry lines in East Boston and Chelsea have been growing even longer over the past few months, underscoring why SNAP funding is so important. SNAP puts food on the table for our elders. It supports our working families. It ensures that our children don’t go hungry.

The Census Bureau must take appropriate steps to process and tabulate the final census count to ensure social safety net programs like SNAP reach the people who need them most. The ongoing pandemic has proven that these government programs are popular and absolutely essential. So as we chart a path for COVID recovery, the census count will serve as a critical data source to ensure the hardest hit communities receive their equitable share.

Mr. Mihm, how important is the accuracy of the 2020 Census in ensuring a fair distribution of federal funding?

J. CHRISTOPHER MIHM: Well ma’am, I think you laid it out just exactly right. It’s instrumental. Hundreds of billions of dollars, in fact estimates have been over a trillion dollars that we’ve seen, over the next decade, of federal funds, will be driven in whole or in part by census data. And that’s not just the counts, but it’s also in some cases with some programs, demographic breakdowns, whether it be by age or gender, you know depending on the type of the program. So we need to have a full and complete count, and we need that count to be accurate in terms of the demographic characteristics if we’re going to adequately and sufficiently allocate very scarce federal resources.

REP. PRESSLEY: And Dr. Salvo, much of your professional work occurs at the municipal level? Can you elaborate on that and how issues like housing and employment are impacted by an inaccurate census count?

DR. JOSEPH SALVO: All of my work, virtually all of my work, is done in the neighborhoods of the city. And I can give you a few illustrations, one that is very close to my heart. When a school has to decide to redraw a boundary around it, the Department of Education would come to us and ask us ‘how best do we draw this boundary?’ So we take data for census tracts and small geographic areas, we assemble it, and we look at the number of school children. We supplement that, of course, with the American Community Survey data that was shown earlier to try to figure out how many of those children are in need, how many of those children are below the poverty line. And we create a picture for the Department of Education that allows them to figure out how to optimize the drawing of that district. Now if those children are not enumerated, they are not accounted for in the census and the American Community Survey, which is based on the census, does not show those children to be present, we make decisions in the absence of information, in essence. And it handicaps us.

So I can give you a number of illustrations like this, but this is just one way that it really matters, at a local geographic level, what the Census Bureau has done. We need to understand it. For example, how many of those children were missing or were not missing? One of the reasons I ask this is because as we alluded to earlier, omissions and duplications are not generally in the same place. Neighborhoods do not generally have this offsetting influence, where you could in essence end up with the correct number by virtue of errors in either direction. Areas with large numbers of omissions tend not to be those areas with large numbers of what we call erroneous enumerations. So all of this needs to be taken into account. We need to understand what the Census Bureau did in order to inform our strategies. Thank you.

REP. PRESSLEY: And Mr. Santos, so it’s fair to say that those communities historically marginalized and under resourced, stand to be disproportionately impacted - those that have been historically hard to count - Black and Latino neighborhoods, immigrant communities? My district is 40% foreign born residents and 53% people of color. Almost 40% of our households are single female-headed, so if we don’t get this right, it sounds like what we will see is a tsunami of hurt across every issue.

ROBERT SANTOS: Yes, it will continue for ten years and basically reinforce inequities that were pre-existing like I said for the next ten years. Thank you.

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