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Local Groups Counting On Accurate Census For Federal Funding

Clay Masters
IPR file
About 50 community groups are working with Des Moines officials to get out the word about next year's census, and ensure an accurate count.

With the 2020 census coming up, local groups are reaching out to populations that may have been underrepresented in the 2010 count. Dozens of Iowa cities, towns and nonprofits have set up Complete Count Committees to tell residents about the census, how to fill out the form and how it could impact funding from federal programs.

The federal government divides more than $675 billion in funding based on population, according to Alex Hassel who is leading the committee for the city of Des Moines. In 2016, $8.7 billion of population-based funding went to Iowa.

“Medicaid and SNAP and Section 8 housing vouchers. The National School Lunch Program. These programs are critical for our communities, so we need an accurate count to make sure that those funding levels reflect the needs of our community,” Hassel said.

Around 50 community groups are working with the city to reach out with census information, Hassel said. Many of them work in areas that were previously undercounted, particularly neighborhoods where English is not residents’ primary language.

When people are missed in the census, Hassel said the state takes a smaller share of funding from federal programs, including Medicaid and other health services.

“Even a 1 percent undercount in 2020 will lead to a $36 million hit to the state of Iowa for the programs that use that Federal Medical Assistance Percentage,” Hassel said.

The census counts every person living in the United States as of April 1, 2020. The population count begins in March when the Census Bureau sends out letters inviting people to take the census by mail, over the phone or online.

The bureau continues to hire temporary workers who will go door to door to complete the count starting in May. To help recruit more staff in Polk County, the pay rate was recently raised to as much as $22.50 per hour.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa