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Funding For Census Outreach Is Unnecessary, GOP Tells Wolf

Michelle R. Smith

At least one of the Governor Tom Wolf’s funding requests is being denied in this year’s budget.

Republican leaders are officially telling him they see no reason to put state money toward turnout efforts for next year’s census. 

With the census less than a year away, lots of states—including Pennsylvania—have assembled Complete Count Commissions tasked with tallying as many people as possible.

At least 14 states are chipping in money, too.

Wolf and his commission, which includes various advocacy groups, decided to ask for a dollar per resident—$12.8 million.

But asked whether that money would be included in next year’s state budget, GOP House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor was blunt.

“No,” he said. “The federal government funds the census, so there’s no need for state dollars to go into the census.”

Micah Sims, a Complete Count member who heads the watchdog group Common Cause PA, said the money would have helped track hard-to-count people: for instance, elderly residents who might have a hard time with the census’s new online form, or people don’t speak English.

He envisioned it being used to set up community centers and libraries as assistance centers with extended hours.

“Where people put their money is where their values are,” he said. “Counting people shouldn’t be a political value, it is a constitutional value.”

Among other things, census counts are used to allocate federal money. The Penn State Data Center estimates that every uncounted Pennsylvanian means a loss of more than $2,093 over ten years.

Under-counting can also cause states to lose political power.

Pennsylvania’s population is shrinking; no matter how well the next census counts its residents, the commonwealth will almost certainly lose at least one congressional representative when districts are reapportioned.

But Wendy Underhill, with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said other states are more uncertain about whether they’ll gain or lose seats—and that makes them likelier to put money into census outreach.

“This year in particular, it seems as though there’s been a move toward more states putting money into census outreach,” she said. “California’s done it for at least two decades, but it’s not common practice that all states put money in.”

A spokesman for Wolf says former governor Tom Ridge, a Republican, allocated about $300,000 for census efforts and his successor, Democrat Ed Rendell, used state agencies to support the count.

Wolf, the spokesman said, will try to assist counting efforts through the executive branch.

There’s still one big unknown about next year’s census: whether President Donald Trump’s administration will be successful in adding a question about respondents’ citizenship status.

Opponents of the question argue it could dissuade non-citizen residents—who are supposed to be counted—from responding.

The US Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling soon.