A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 24, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240; E-mail:Thomas.Voltero@hou.state.ma.us
FOR THE CENSUS 2000, EVERYBODY COUNTS
They're coming, so be prepared. They'll be on the streets, going door to door, and they won't stop until every last man, woman, and child is accounted for. They will want to ask you some questions about yourself and your family, like what your name is, how old you are, what your race is, and what your primary language is. There is no need to worry, these people have only the best of intentions: they want to make sure that you are counted in the 2000 federal Census. The only things they will be "armed" with are ballpoint pens and notepads.
The Census is the most important informational service performed by the federal government. According to the United States Census Bureau, the 2000 Census is the "largest peace-time mobilization in U.S. history." Roughly 860,000 people will fan out across America to reach an anticipated 275 million people.
The statistics generated by the survey are utilized for a variety of purposes by government officials. Most importantly, the data is used to ascertain how public funds will be spent for the numerous initiatives administered by the federal, state, and municipal governments. Transportation projects, health care services, election procedures, and education policies are all based on the data collected by the Census Bureau.
In fact, approximately one-half of federal grant money that goes to state, tribal, and municipal governments is distributed using formulas involving census population data, according to a report by the General Accounting Office. It is estimated that at least $182 billion will be distributed annually based on formulas using Census 2000 data. When the federal government has reliable data, it is more inclined to respond to the needs of communities that ask for funding.
Often, it is the case that a state will ask for more aid, even though its demographic data from the Census does not indicate a funding gap. A state could simply ask for more federal aid independent of its actual needs. In this way, it can decrease its own expenditures by putting the financial burden of the country as a whole. Unfortunately, while this practice may benefit the taxpayers of that particular state, it takes money away from states with genuine funding requests.
The Census, acting like an internal audit, discourages this practice by requiring the government to "go by the numbers." By having accurate population statistics, governments can weed out funding requests that do not match up with statistical data. The burden of proof, then, is placed on the political districts that solicit financial assistance.
Congressional representation is another important area that hinges on decennial Census tabulations. While each state has a fixed membership in the Senate (2 members), there is a different game played in House of Representatives. The House currently has 435 seats that are divided amongst the 50 states according to population. After each Census, the seats are re-apportioned based upon the new demographic information.
Many people believe that the population of the United States is basically static, and therefore, that political representation is fixed. According to the 1990 Census, however, that hypothesis can be readily disproved. As a result of the changes between the 1980 and 1990 censuses, several states lost Congressmen to areas of the country whose population increased.
Alarmingly, the regions that were hardest hit were the Midwest and the Northeast. Congressional seats from these districts "migrated" to the South and the West, proving that the population is actually quite dynamic. The loss of Congressional seats invariably precipitates a decline in political power.
The final tally of the Census will determine how literally billions of dollars will be spent over the next 10 years, as well as the number of votes we will have in Congress. Having recently completed the first stage of the FY'01 budget process, Massachusetts legislators will readily admit how important it is to have the maximum amount of federal funding possible. Not only are we facing increased fiscal demands from government agencies, public interest organizations, and other groups, but we are also feeling pressure from huge capital projects like the Big Dig.
In order to keep funding projects at their current levels (and increase funding when necessary), every dollar counts- especially the ones from the federal government. Having the appropriate political representation to secure this money, of course, goes without saying.
If one were to summarize the way in which funding and apportionment mechanisms work in government, it would look something like this: more people = more money and votes. When populations decline in a region for whatever reason, funding and political power usually decline in turn. Incidentally, it does not matter how many people are actually living in an area- all government planners care about is the data that is reported in the Census.
If current trends continue, the Northeast will once again be in danger of losing out to other regions. For that reason, it is imperative that citizens fulfill their civic obligation by completing their mail-in forms or by responding to the door-to-door Census interviewers. Losing Congressional seats, let alone millions of dollars in federal funding, is something that we just cannot afford.
As we know, schools, roads, and health care all cost money, and a sizable portion of this comes from Uncle Sam. No one would ever want to see these worthy programs undercut by funding decreases. To forestall such an unfortunate situation, we can do our part by participating in the 2000 Census, which is the last census of both the century and the millennium. It's not too late to be a part of this incredible undertaking, so make sure that when "they" come, you get out there and be counted!