When done right, the nationwide census conducted every 10 years ensures that states receive appropriate representation in Congress as well as their fair share of federal funding for everything from health care and education to transportation and foster care.
But the accuracy of the 2020 census, which is mandated to count every person living in the country regardless of citizenship status, is at risk. Underfunding, a transition to an online system, and the Trump administration’s stated intention of adding a citizenship question on the census form are causing concerns that participation will be suppressed and the 2020 census will fall short of delivering an accurate count.
In Washington state, officials started laying the groundwork last year in anticipation of efforts to jeopardize the decadal count. The governor’s budget office, which works with the U.S. Census Bureau, launched an early outreach effort to local governments to ensure the state has updated lists of every residential address in every county. It is also developing an outreach plan to encourage participation, especially among immigrant communities and lower-income communities with limited internet access.
Washington is one of several states suing the feds over the citizenship question, which hasn’t been part of the census for nearly 60 years.
In December, Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter to officials with Washington’s cities, counties and other jurisdictions to share concerns and prepare for a beefed-up state effort.
“All indications are that the federal government’s 2020 census efforts will not be as vigorous as previous counts, including reduced funding for outreach and community engagement efforts,” Inslee wrote. “This makes it even more important that we step up at the state level.”