John Wilson: Census workers need more time as Kansas communities hang in balance
All eyes are on Congress as lawmakers make their way to Washington to close out a year that has been dominated by a global pandemic and around-the-clock election news. For those of us in Kansas and other rural states, the decisions they make over the next several weeks could shape the future of our communities for years to come.
Beyond the much talked-about COVID-19 relief lawmakers have been looking to provide, Congress will also need to give due attention to the remaining phases of the 2020 Census. Even though counting stopped in October, Census workers have until Dec. 31 to verify the responses they have collected and report the final results.
The problem, however, is that the time between when the Census counting phase ended and when the results are due to be reported is only about half of the five months that Census officials normally use to go through this certification process. With this drastically compressed timeline and the challenges officials had in collecting responses this year, there is a real chance that several states are ultimately undercounted in the final Census results.
The risks are only magnified in the rural communities across Kansas and similar states, where Census officials have a harder time reaching residents through standard processes.
These states that are more likely to be undercounted could miss out on enormous amounts of funding from the federal government that goes toward necessary projects such as bolstering infrastructure, assisting rural and agricultural areas, and improving local schools.
In Kansas, for example, we received just over $6 billion in federal assistance distributed based on the results of the 2010 Census. That money went toward enhancing health care, fixing roads, and funding job training programs. Undercounting our state’s population by even a small amount could mean these programs receive hundreds of millions less in funding.
For the sake of Kansas and other rural states throughout the nation, the best course of action would be to extend the deadline for reporting Census results.
Some senators are fortunately hard at work to accomplish this, with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, introducing a bill that would provide the extension necessary. I hope that Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, of Kansas, will join him in these efforts and work to pass this bill before the current legislative session comes to an end.
The Census is a core piece of how we ensure that our government lives up to its purpose. We need our legislators to recognize that with so many unprecedented challenges this year, we must give Census workers more time to do their job thoroughly.
Countless communities rely on an accurate Census to make sure their voices are heard and their needs are met, and anything but an accurate final count will mean they miss out.
John Wilson is the president of Kansas Action for Children.