COMMENTARY: Hidalgo County Judge: 2020 Census crucial to region

April 1 triggers the official one-year countdown to the 2020 Census that will define our community for at least the next 10 years and will directly impact the lives of our residents.

The U.S. Constitution calls for an enumeration to be made of the populace every 10 years. It is designed to count every person living in the United States at that moment, regardless of where they live or how many people are in a given household.

Data collected from the Census affects how many representatives we have in federal and state government and the amount of federal and state funding we receive to assist our residents and communities.

According to the Census Bureau, $675 billion annually is distributed to local communities through 132 government programs. Another report, published by George Washington University, called “Counting for Dollars: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds,” states that in 2015 the top 11 federal programs receiving Census-guided funding were:

• Medicaid.

• Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

• Medicare Part B-Physicians fee schedule services.

• Highway planning and construction.

• Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers.

• Title 1 grants to local education agencies.

• Nutritional School Lunch Program.

• Special Education Grants (IDEA).

• State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

• Section 8 housing assistance payments program.

• Head Start/Early Head Start.

With 35 percent of our residents living below the poverty line, ensuring we receive our fair share of federal and state money becomes very important to us.

Hidalgo County and the Rio Grande Valley have traditionally been undercounted by the U.S. Census.

It is estimated that in 2010 the Census may have missed 25,000 to 70,000 people. But even if we are undercounted by just 10,000 people, the county stands to lose millions of crucial healthcare, education and transportation dollars.

The Census has other far-reaching implications, including determining congressional and state representation and providing data that businesses, researchers and policymakers depend on to make decisions.

Therefore, we must do everything we can to ensure an accurate count in the 2020 Census.

We can accomplish that goal by working together. We are stronger when we work together; that is why our county has been working with a comprehensive coalition of partners to plan ahead for the 2020 Census.

Our partners represent local governments, primary and secondary education, community organizations, news media and business and workforce professionals. These representatives helped us come up with our 2020 Census logo and slogan of United We Count/Unidos Contamos!

What can you do?

• Apply for a Census job and work either part or full time in your own community or encourage your family, friends and neighbors to apply online at jobs.

• You can share the importance of being counted and the impact it has on our communities with your family, friends and neighbors.

• Attend Census events as they are scheduled around the Rio Grande Valley.

• And, this time next year, encourage everyone you know to be counted.

Hidalgo County will mark the one-year countdown at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 1, with a news conference that will be live-streamed on Facebook and on the county’s website. We hope to have all of our partners there in a show of unity and strength.

United We Count/Unidos Contamos!

Richard F. Cortez is Hidalgo County judge and a member of The Monitor Board of Contributors.