Save the Census!

By Rabbi Bonnie Margulis 

In Numbers 1:2, God instructs Moses “take a census of the whole community, every family according to its ancestral household, listing every single name…” The whole community was to be counted. Not just one sector. Not just one tribe. The whole community. And there was no option to stop before the counting was done.

On August 3, the Trump Administration announced it was ending the Census 2020 count a month early, despite the fact that only 63% of households have so far been counted.

Rushing the Census will most certainly hurt a diverse range of rural and urban communities, including Native Americans, people of color, low-income workers, immigrant families, the undocumented, the homeless, and children.

These populations are historically undercounted, leaving them underrepresented locally and in Congress, and cutting their fair share of federal funding for Medicaid, economic development grants, child care, schools, road and public transit improvements, home heating assistance for senior citizens, and many more vital services. Prematurely shortening the time given the Census Bureau to do its work will necessarily result in an even greater undercount than we have seen before.

According to the United States Constitution, the purpose of the Census is two-fold: 1) to determine how many seats each state has in the House of Representatives, and 2) to determine how to distribute federal funds to localities.

For every person counted, their community receives approximately $2,000 in federal and state funding. If someone does not get counted, that community loses out on that money. If a person is missed in one Census year, they will not be counted for another 10 years. That is $20,000 per person that is lost to that community over those ten years.

In 2010 over 3 million folks were not counted. That is $60,000,000,000 in federal funding for services that was lost to local communities. The Census affects budgets for programs and services such as HUD funding for low-income housing, free and reduced school lunch, SNAP (food stamps), transportation, Medicaid and Medicare, student loans, and many other programs.

Money follows the numbers, so if the elderly, minorities, homeless, young children, undocumented immigrants, go uncounted or undercounted, then services for those populations are underfunded. Young kids who do not get counted – it will be another ten years before they get another chance, and ten years of funding that is lost during the most crucial period in a child’s development.

Shortening the Census will result in an inaccurate count, distorting the true picture of America for the next decade. It does not have to be this way. Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice sent this letter to President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as Senator Tammy Baldwin and Senator Ron Johnson, urging them to continue the count through the end of October, as had been planned. Please add your voice to ours and urge Congress to act if the President will not. Click here to find contact information for Senators Baldwin and Johnson and your member of Congress.

Help ensure that everyone gets counted!

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis is the executive director at Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice.

Disclaimer: The From Our Rabbis feature seeks to provide a platform representing the diversity of our community clergy. The views, information, or opinions expressed in the From Our Rabbis articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Jewish Federation of Madison.