By Beth O’Connor
O’Connor is Executive Director of the Virginia Rural Health Association and member of the Virginia Complete Count Commission.
Fewer than 10 months from now, the people of this nation will have the once in a decade chance to be counted alongside the hundreds of millions of other folks who call America home.
On April 1, 2020, staff from the Census Bureau will fan out in communities small and large to tally all those who make their home in these United States. The counting will happen in our corner of the Commonwealth, too, in Roanoke and New River Valley, in Southwest Virginia, and points in between.
In terms of importance, being counted in the census is more essential than voting.
Casting a ballot gives people a voice in representative government by electing officials who serve in Richmond and Washington. The decisions made by elected officials can sometimes feel like faraway things until they impact your community or way of life.
The census may also feel like a faraway thing. But the truth is that being included in the census can have a real impact on people in local communities. Having an accurate assessment of the diversity that makes up the American portrait is vital to ensure that our communities receive the funding to which they are entitled.
Each year, $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to communities across the nation based on census data. That funding supports a wide range of essential programs that help provide health care, housing, education, our transportation infrastructure, and so many other public services.
Virginia’s share of that funding is substantial. In 2016, Virginia received nearly $18 billion in census funding — an amount roughly equivalent to one-fifth of the Commonwealth’s annual budget.
In Virginia, census funds are used to plan highway construction projects, support mass transit, and programs to extend the electric grid in rural communities. Census dollars help fund health care for children, expectant mothers, and disabled people. They support adoption services, grants to help young people attend college, and career technical training.
And that’s just scratching the surface of all the vital programs the census funds.
Reading that, you might say to yourself: “That is all well and good, but what does it have to do with me and my family?”
The answer: quite a lot.
Each person who goes uncounted in the 2020 census could result in Virginia communities missing out on $2,000 in annual funding. Over 10 years, that’s $20,000 in lost funding for each person who isn’t counted. Your community missing 10 people would be $200,000 in resources shifted to another area.
A UVA Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service review of 1.5 million residential addresses in the state identified 33,555 missing or incorrect addresses, potentially adding more than 70,000 Virginians to the decennial census.
If even a tiny fraction of the people in those Virginia households were uncounted in 2010, or are uncounted in 2020, that could cost Virginia millions in lost funding.
As a person, you have innate, intrinsic value. You matter on an individual level.
That’s why it is critical for you to be counted during the 2020 census — so your community receives the funding and support it deserves to keep it a great place to work, play, and live.
Our communities are best served when the census has a complete and accurate count of each and every person because we forfeit funding when we undercount the people in our communities.
From Roanoke and the New River Valley to every other corner of Virginia, it is critical to have a full, thorough, accurate census count.
The census is a time-honored national tradition dating to 1790. Over the centuries it has endured amid changes in social, political, and societal changes.
What has remained constant to this day is that by law data collected during the census is confidential and only used to ensure federal resources are fairly allocated.
So people living in Virginia, including those in traditionally marginalized or undercounted communities, should have confidence about participating in the 2020 census for the good of their families and their communities.
Undercounted is underfunded, under-represented, and under-resourced. The message is simple: Get Counted in the 2020 census.