Wolf cabinet secretaries make the financial case for not ignoring the 2020 Census

    Department of Community and Economic Development Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs Rick Vilello talks about the 2020 Census in the Capitol. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

    One year before the next U.S. Census officially kicks off, a handful of Gov. Tom Wolf’s cabinet secretaries gathered in the Capitol on Monday to make the financial case for participating.

    “It isn’t a Republican issue. It’s isn’t a Democrat issue,” Rick Vilello, Department of Community and Economic Development deputy secretary for community affairs, said. “Getting the count right affects so many different budgets.”

    Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said an accurate count of Pennsylvania’s population has “critical implications” for Medicaid, health insurance for children, food stamps, energy assistance funds, and childcare grants. Census data is also used to allocate funds for education programs like Head Start and reduced lunches, Education Secretary Pedro Rivera added.

    For the first time in its 200-plus-year history, the Census will largely be completed online in 2020, though participants will still have the option to use paper forms.

    Sue Copella, director of the Pennsylvania State Data Center, said “the state loses funds and influence” when there isn’t a proper Census count. The commonwealth is at risk of losing at least one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives because of declining population.

    Young children and rural residents are traditionally undercounted, Copella said, as are racial and ethnic minorities.

    There is concern at both the state and national level that a question about citizenship proposed by the Trump administration could lead to widespread undercounting of Hispanics. The question is the subject of multiple lawsuits.

    Vilello said there is concern in Pennsylvania about the question, but that the state will live with the results of a court decision.

    “Our job is to get everyone counted. We’re waiting to see and just bringing all the partners to the table,” he said, adding that outreach will look different in areas like Lancaster and Reading — which have growing Hispanic populations — than in rural counties like Elk.

    “You live with the undercount for 10 years,” Vilello said. “That’s significant dollars across the state.”

    Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.

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