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Why Maine Nonprofits Should Care About the 2020 Census

by Jennifer Gray

The 2020 Census will soon be upon us. Unfortunately, there are concerns about the upcoming census including whether it has sufficient funding, whether there be accurate counting, and whether all of the questions have been adequately tested.

Census data is used to determine Congressional representation and federal funding distributions – critical decisions that have the potential to impact Maine directly and significantly. The populations which tend to have the highest risk of being undercounted are rural communities and communities with people of color. As a result, Maine is at risk of being undercounted in the next census.

In order to keep Maine’s nonprofit community informed on this important issue, we are sharing some excerpted information below from our colleagues at the National Council of Nonprofits. We will continue to provide regular updates on the Census 2020.


The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2 mandates that the population of the United States must be counted every ten years. The data collected determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and how hundreds of billions of federal dollars are allocated to states and localities for key programs, many of which are administered through nonprofits. Adequate funding for the Census Bureau to perform the task is imperative to ensure a fair and accurate count. Charitable nonprofits can help ensure that hard-to-locate individuals are counted because they are trusted members of the community with direct access to many populations.

Why It Matters

Results of the U.S. 2020 Census will influence individuals, communities, governments, for-profit entities, and nonprofit organizations throughout the next decade. Data obtained will inform decision makers in all sectors and lead to allocation of political power and financial resources. If the data are wrong, there will be inequitable distribution of resources for basic community needs, such as education, food and income security, health care, housing, transportation, and much more. The allocation of $600 billion in federal funds hinges annually on the decennial data, including funding for state and local governments, as well as for nonprofits to deliver services to individuals and communities. Key programs that receive funding specifically from federal grants include the National School Lunch program, Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and Early Head Start.

Where the National Council of Nonprofits Stands

“Budget decisions at all levels of government are often based on census data. It is imperative that the federal government adequately fund the 2020 United States Census to ensure that the process for counting residents across the nation is fair and complete.” 2017 Public Policy Agenda

What Nonprofits Can Do / Take Action

Nonprofits are encouraged to engage and help ensure a fair and accurate count, particularly in hard-to-count areas. Several ways to engage on the issue include:

  • Convene and educate community leaders and other stakeholders, including the media, about the Census.
  • Identify and partner with organizations and community stakeholders that are already connected to hard-to-count communities and have built strong relationships and trust.
  • Advocate to federal, state, and local lawmakers for funding to support census outreach efforts.
  • Work with state, county, tribal, and local government leaders to create and engage in Complete Count Committees (volunteer committees of government and community leaders from different sectors established to increase awareness about the census and promote participation).
  • Connect to national hubs (e.g., Census Project) that are providing resources to learn more about and engage in census advocacy.
  • Use the Census Project toolkits to take action.

Funding Status

The omnibus spending bill provides a $1.34 billion increase for the Census Bureau to help prepare for the 2020 count. This was double the President’s budget, which advocates cautioned would only keep the Bureau on “life support.” A bipartisan group of 161 mayors had called on the Administration to provide “adequate funding, qualified Census Bureau leadership, and a full rejection of untested questions that threatens to undermine census preparations and accuracy.”

Citizenship Question

On March 26, 2018, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that a question on citizenship status will be reinstated to the 2020 decennial census questionnaire. The stated reason for adding the controversial question is to help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA) according to a news release and memorandum supporting the decision. The California Attorney General announced on March 27, 2018 that he filed a lawsuit challenging the inclusion of the citizenship question as an “unconstitutional attempt to disrupt an accurate Census count.”

Nonprofits and others working to promote a full and complete census have expressed concern that the citizenship question could create fear among certain populations that the government will use the responses (or non-responses to certain questions) as an excuse to take actions against individuals. That fear could depress the number of responses from immigrants and residents, producing an undercount disproportionately affecting those populations. The New York Attorney General said the question “will create an environment of fear and distrust in immigrant communities that would make impossible both an accurate census and the fair distribution of federal tax dollars.” Officials in at least 12 states have indicated they will pursue legal action.

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