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Wells, Allen: What better investment for surplus than Census? (Opinion)

Jennifer Wells

Jennifer Wells

Jennifer Wells

Jennifer Wells

In under nine months, the decennial Census will begin, with a goal of enumerating, or counting, all who live in West Virginia. The Census determines how much political representation we get at the state and federal levels and how much federal investment comes to West Virginia for programs that fund highways, school lunches, health care, food assistance and much more.

But an accurate Census count will be a challenge in our state. In Greenbrier County, Tract 9502 is considered one of the hardest to count Census tracts in the country, with only 70.5 percent of households returning their 2010 Census questionnaire. On top of that, 42.3 percent of this tract’s households have either no home internet or dial-up only, making 2020 Census responses even more difficult as this is the first time the Census Bureau will be encouraging households to submit their responses online. And this tract is not the only one of its kind in West Virginia. In fact, we have 443,000 residents, or 25 percent of our population, living in similarly hard-to-count Census tracts, some with 2010 response rates as low as 50 percent.

An undercount would have serious consequences for West Virginia. Just a 1 percent undercount would cost West Virginia over $188 million in funding for just five HHS programs whose funds are guided by Census data (Medicaid, Medicare Part D, CHIP, Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, and Child Care and Development Fund Matching Funds).

West Virginia’s 2019 Fiscal Year just ended on June 30, with the state exceeding revenue collection estimates by over $8 million. The un-adjusted total collections for the state were over $300 million above the governor’s projected budget, but the bulk of that money has been allocated through supplemental appropriations to the Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Resources, and Agriculture to name a few. Allocating a portion of the remaining surplus to Census outreach in hard-to-count areas would help all of those departments and more by ensuring that the federal dollars that our state relies on are brought into our communities. For example, the Legislature used part of the excess collections to give $104 million to Transportation for road repairs during the special session. Federal road funding, guided by the Census, totals nearly $500 million per year and makes up one-third of our total highway dollars.

Census Counts, an advocacy group made up of nonprofits and community groups in 30 states, estimates that West Virginia could fund a robust program to reach all of our hard-to-count communities with $3.6 million in outreach funding.

In fiscal year 2016, West Virginia received over $6.7 billion through 55 federal programs whose funds are guided by Census data. Surely, we can invest state dollars from our surplus to make sure all of our residents are counted, and our communities receive the investment to which they are entitled. Please call Gov. Jim Justice’s office at 304-558-2000 or 888-438-2731 and ask him to invest state surplus dollars to ensure a robust Census count.

Jennifer Wells is executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition

Kelly Allen is the director of policy engagement for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy

Funerals For Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Balser, Katheryn - Noon, Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Craig, Lorene - 11 a.m., Levi First Missionary Baptist Church, Rand.

Dr. Crane, Vivian Frances - 1 p.m. Rainelle United Methodist Church, Rainelle.

Hall, Jesse - 2 p.m., Perrow Presbyterian Church, Cross Lanes.

Harrah, Sylvia - 5 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Krepps, Edna - Noon, Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Musick, Joann - Noon, O’Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

Popp, Elizabeth - 11 a.m., St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, St. Albans.

Rogers, Pansy - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay.

Sanders, Matthew - 2 p.m., Waters Funeral Chapel, Summersville.

Willet, Linda Lou - 2 p.m., Willet Family Cemetery, Gallipolis Ferry.