It’s late, and less than a third of what a state commission recommended, but Pennsylvania is devoting $4 million to get residents to participate in the 2020 Census.
The funding was tucked into a bill Gov. Tom Wolf signed Thursday that made the most extensive changes in decades to Pennsylvania’s election system. The Department of State can use up to $4 million from the general fund to support efforts to ensure every resident is counted in the census and receives proper political representation.
The state’s Census 2020 Complete Count Commission had asked in May for almost $13 million — roughly $1 per resident — to distribute to organizations throughout the state that are working to educate people about the census and persuade them to respond. The state budget passed in June did not include any money for the effort.
Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott said that the governor has been trying to secure state funds for the census and that the funding in the election bill was the result of compromises among lawmakers.
“Four million dollars is better than nothing," Abbott said.
Alarmed by the state’s previous lack of funding, statewide nonprofit groups and Philadelphia’s census committee have been raising their own funds to support their work. Keystone Counts, a coalition of nonprofits, has collected $2 million from foundations, including $1 million from the William Penn Foundation.
Erin Casey, executive director of Keystone Counts, called the state’s funding “absolutely essential" to ensure Pennsylvania gets its fair share of federal funds over the next decade.
“This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue," Casey said in a statement. "This is all about Pennsylvania, and this funding will go a long way to supporting efforts underway to ensure a fair and accurate count in our commonwealth.”
In 4½ months, the U.S. Census Bureau will start asking residents nationwide to fill out census questionnaires, which will ask for demographic information for each person living in a household.
Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds, the makeup of voting districts, and the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House depend on population counts from each decennial census, so making sure all residents get counted is in each state’s interest. Among programs federally funded through census counts are those for health care, schools, roads, housing, nutrition assistance, and community development.
New Jersey set aside $9 million its census efforts. States such as California, New York, Maryland, and Illinois also have allocated millions.
Census outreach funding from the states focuses on populations that historically have been undercounted, including children, low-income households, immigrants, people of color, and rural residents. Community organizations that receive the money teach residents why the census is important and how to fill out their forms.
Philly Counts 2020, the city’s effort to ensure Philadelphians are counted in the census, also has been raising money. United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey announced last week it will match new donations for census work up to $500,000, bringing in $1 million for community-based organizations working in Philadelphia and Montgomery and Delaware Counties.