Gov. Wolf backs proposal to spend public dollars for 2020 census outreach

Complete County commission member Sundrop Carter says census outreach needs support and money. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Gov. Tom Wolf is throwing his support behind a proposal to spend millions of public dollars — one per Pennsylvanian — on 2020 census outreach.

The money would be appropriated during this year’s budget process, as the state begins to ramp up efforts to count each and every person living in the commonwealth for the federal decennial survey.

On Monday, the Governor’s Census 2020 Complete Count Commission formally made the recommendation to appropriate $12.8 million “for outreach, communications, education, administration, and assistance.”

The commission’s funding committee arrived at that number by looking at how public money was set aside in California, Illinois, Maryland, and New York.

Commissioner Erin Casey, who heads the good-government network Pennsylvania Voice and the Keystone Counts coalition, told the Capital-Star the group met for the first time in April and discussed what the state’s plan looks like.

“It became very clear there was a need to call on the governor and our General Assembly leaders to [appropriate] public funds in the 2019-20 budget,” she said.

In a statement, Wolf’s spokesperson J.J. Abbott said the governor “formed the Complete Count Commission to determine Pennsylvania’s needs in a collaborative way to ensure every resident is counted. A complete count is essential to maintain our representation nationally and funding levels from the federal government.

“Governor Wolf supports this recommendation for a relatively modest investment that would pay long-term dividends in return.”

At Monday’s Pa. Census 2020 Summit in Harrisburg, members of the commission stressed the importance of an accurate count to ensure Pennsylvania gets its fair share of hundreds of billions in federal funding. Programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and highway construction depend on census data.

So do federal Pell grants, Randy Goin Jr., deputy chancellor of the Pa. State System of Higher Education, noted.

Sundrop Carter, a commissioner and executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, said Pennsylvania cannot ignore groups like the homeless and people who don’t speak English in the count.

Census workers also need to reflect the diversity of their communities, she said, and be equipped with accurate information to address concerns.

At the moment, the source of that concern is the Trump administration, which is pushing to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in June.

While most households won’t be asked to fill out the census until next March, educational canvassing will begin this year.

“A dollar per person will really help us take that first step forward and make sure we have an accurate census,” Casey said.

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