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The 2020 Census will determine the fate of billions in federal dollars. Which programs are at stake?

Funding for highways, schools, medical centers, and other essential services “would all be dramatically affected" by a population undercount, a state official said.

The Guyon Lugo family (left to right), Jimmy, Jim, Michael, Brandon, John and José, in this 2017 file photo. The family receives federal adoption subsidies to help with expenses.
The Guyon Lugo family (left to right), Jimmy, Jim, Michael, Brandon, John and José, in this 2017 file photo. The family receives federal adoption subsidies to help with expenses.Read moreJose Lugo

Jim Guyon joined the board of the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia after he and his husband adopted their second of four sons. In the three years since, Guyon has realized that a misunderstanding keeps some people from adopting: They think they can’t afford it.

For people who want to adopt, federal subsidies are available in the forms of tax deductions; funds for expenses, medical care, and counseling; and financial help for children with special needs. Guyon’s husband, José Lugo, is able to be a stay-at-home dad to support their 12- to 15-year-old boys. Funds pay for speech therapy for the couple’s 13-year-old son, Brandon.

“Without these funds, there would be even a larger population of foster children that would never get adopted,” said Guyon, a senior paralegal at Campbell Soup Co. who lives in Monroe Township, Gloucester County. "We have to make sure they have loving, stable homes and people can afford to adopt them.”

The money for adoption assistance has a lot to do with the outcome of the census.

The 2020 Census will determine how the federal government will distribute close to $900 billion to states and local communities for dozens of programs in the next decade. And any flaws in that count, or a lack of participation by the public, could lead to millions of dollars less for some services.

The census “touches every Pennsylvanian every day,” said Rick Vilello, a deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. He noted that funding for highways, schools, and medical centers could be “dramatically affected” if there’s an undercount next year — a rising concern in part because of political battles over immigration and technological changes to the census.

Based on the last decennial count, Pennsylvania received roughly $39.2 billion in federal funds just in 2016 — the fifth most in the country, according to a report this year by George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy. California received the most, the report said, followed by New York, Texas, and Florida, among the most populous states. New Jersey received roughly $22.7 billion.

Here are some of the services funded based on population counts, with a detailed look at Pennsylvania’s:

Medical Funding

Based on 2010 population data, the federal government gave Pennsylvania more than $115 million for health-care centers and $59 million in grants to prevent and treat substance abuse in fiscal year 2016. The state received $17 billion for Medicaid programs.

Vilello said that at a Pennsylvania county commissioners conference last week, someone argued the census doesn’t affect him because he doesn’t use Medicaid or Medicare.

"I explained to him your local hospital relies on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement,” Vilello said. "If you take that funding away, you might no longer have a local hospital.”

Medicaid also funds services such as rides to doctor appointments through Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance Transportation Program.

The rate at which the federal government reimburses the state for Medicaid costs depends on the state’s income (as calculated by another agency) divided by its population. So an undercount of residents means fewer funds.

But the state is required to provide Medicaid services, said Antoinette Kraus, executive director of Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

"At the end of the day, it would leave a hole in our state budget,” Kraus said. "Where would we get that money?”

Her nonprofit is a member of Keystone Counts, a coalition of organizations working to ensure that as many Pennsylvanians as possible are counted in the 2020 Census.

Food Assistance

About 1.8 million Pennsylvania residents eat food purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to the state Department of Human Services. The state received more than $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2016 based on 2010 population counts.

The Philadelphia School District receives more than $80 million each year for free breakfasts, lunches and after-school meals for thousands of students, according to district officials.


Pennsylvania received more than $1 billion for Section 8 housing vouchers and housing assistance in fiscal year 2016.

“The population in general needs to know the importance of the census and what those numbers impact,” said Erik Clare, executive director of the Bucks County Housing Group, which has seen an increasing desperation from residents hoping to use housing vouchers.

For most of the affordable-housing units the nonprofit offers, residents use some type of subsidy, including Section 8 vouchers, veteran benefits, and supplemental security income, Clare said.


Federal and state highways, bridges, Philadelphia International Airport, and regional transportation systems such as SEPTA all rely on federal funds determined by population counts. Pennsylvania received nearly $2 billion for highway planning and construction in fiscal year 2016.

Undercounts during the census would worsen Pennsylvania’s current transportation-funding challenges, PennDot spokesperson Erin Waters-Trasatt said in a statement, adding that “federal inaction on meaningful transportation funding is one of the largest funding challenges we have."


The School District of Philadelphia receives about $435 million in federal funding annually, according to city officials. Just over $50 million of that helps students who are learning English and those who have special needs. Federal dollars fund the district’s early-education programs, including Head Start, for which Pennsylvania receives about $300 million.

“These dollars fund critical positions and programs that support many of our highest-need student populations,” school district spokesperson Lee Whack said in a statement.

The school district is working with the city to ensure the census counts all residents, “so that families in Philadelphia get their fair share of resources for a quality education,” Whack said.

Community Development

The federal government gives about $30.5 million to Pennsylvania through the Community Services Block Grant program and about $37 million for the Community Development Block Grant program.

In Chester County, grants help pay for a program to train residents to be nursing assistants; housing support for families with a member who has a disability; shelters in West Chester, Phoenixville, and Coatesville; and an income tax assistance program that helps residents get back a total of more than $1 million in tax refunds, which then goes “back into the community,” said Patrick Bokovitz, director of the county Department of Community Development.