The $34 billion state budget deal announced Monday does not include the more than $12 million that a state commission said Pennsylvania needs to ensure that residents are counted in the 2020 Census.
“We just can’t go into this with no funding," said Micah Sims, a member of Pennsylvania’s 2020 Census Complete Count Commission and executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Pennsylvania. "That would be a terrible situation. We have to avoid an undercount.”
Population counts in each census determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds for hospitals, schools, roads, and other services; the boundaries of voting districts; and the share of seats each state gets in the House.
The state commission recommended that Pennsylvania spend $1 per resident to teach people about the importance of the census and to persuade residents — especially those who are historically undercounted — to answer their questionnaires next year.
Sims said the commission and Common Cause will “keep fighting until the final budget has been passed.”
Both legislative chambers still must approve the agreement. Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said Monday that it "will work to provide as much state assistance as possible from the executive branch” should the budget deal pass.
Wolf formed the census commission and, according to his office, supports the group’s recommendation last month for a “relatively modest investment that would pay long-term dividends in return." The governor did not include census money in the budget he proposed in February. His office said last month that the governor expected bipartisan support for the census funding during budget negotiations.
“Gov. Wolf and the census commission pushed for this funding, but ultimately it did not have the support of the Republican caucuses,” Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbot said in a statement Monday.
Mike Straub, spokesperson for House Republicans, said state funding “didn’t prove to be necessary in previous census counts” and didn’t garner support among members.
“The census is really a federal project, a federal initiative,” he said.
As for new challenges facing next year’s count, Straub said, “it’s something they’re going to have to grapple with in Washington.”
Among those challenges are the possibility of a citizenship question that the Census Bureau said will depress response rates and the conducting of the census online for the first time.
In New Jersey, lawmakers also have asked for $1 per resident — about $9 million — to fund the state’s census efforts. The Senate and Assembly referred the bills to committees after they were introduced in February.