Did you know that the U.S. Census is a driver of mental health in our communities?

The Census count determines whether federal dollars are fairly distributed for over 300 programs that help communities thrive. Results impact systems-level decisions for a decade and determine which economic investments are made and how resources are allocated for multiple programs that support mental health and well-being throughout the state.

Every ten years since 1790, the U.S. Census Bureau has conducted a constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the nation. Approximately $1.5 trillion in federal funds are distributed to state and local governments each year and the U.S. Census data determines where it goes. A Census undercount means significant loss of federal funds for communities in need. In particular, hard-to-count (HTC) communities (e.g. children under 5 years old or people experiencing homelessness) stand to lose the most from an inaccurate count.

In the 2020 U.S. Census, Texas is estimated to have had a 1.9 percent undercount, a potential loss of $1.9 billion per year for the state – and over $19 billion over the next decade.

Currently, Texas receives $59.4 billion dollars per year to fund 55 federal programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP), and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). An undercount could mean a loss of approximately $1,161 per excluded person every year, based on current per capita funding levels from these programs. And since U.S. Census data is used for a decade, that could total $11,610 over 10 years for every resident not counted.

Yet in 2020, our state leadership barely offered a helping hand to prepare, coordinate or execute an earnest Census count. And let’s be honest, when we don’t count every Texan, we are leaving money on the table.  For our budget-minded state leadership, this seems a tad out of character. If you were offered money to help people, and all you needed to do is accurately count how much money you need, why wouldn’t you do it? I don’t know about you, but I think neglecting to do so is illogical and not sound government practice. Each citizen and anyone in a position of power should embolden our leaders to do better.

In 2020, the Hogg Foundation awarded $2.1 million in grant funds to 28 organizations to support complete count efforts in Texas. Our primary focus was to aid collaborative approaches to reach traditionally HTC populations, communities, and geographic areas throughout the state. We wanted every person in Texas to count.

Looking ahead to the 2030 U.S. Census, we recognize that the work needs to continue. In the same way that community collaboration and equity-focused organizing stepped in to support the 2020 Census, foundations need to remain vigilant leaders and investors in the Census’s success.

Through collaborative funding initiatives, philanthropic organizations in Texas are continuing the hard work of getting an accurate count. Alongside partners such as the Census Equity Initiative of the Funders Committee for Civic Participation; Episcopal Health Foundation; and St. David’s Foundation, the Hogg Foundation is investing $40,000 into a $200,000 initiative to help the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and Dr. Andrew Reamer from George Washington University (GWU) update data and focus on Texas.

This research will deepen our understanding of the true financial loss of a Census undercount.

Building on the statistical modeling developed by POGO and GWU for the 2020 Census, this work will clearly document the relationship between the Census and gains or losses for social spending, including mental health services. Plans for using this information are already being discussed with the Texas Census Institute and the hope is to advocate for state funding for a more accurate count during the 2030 Census.

Findings will be released publicly, and data will be displayed through a free, interactive platform that allows users to select program categories (e.g., housing, children, transportation, mental health) under different scenarios (e.g. an undercount of 1 percent, 2 percent etc.) to see the financial impact of the Census on federal funding in a particular state. According to the Census Equity Initiative, Texas will be the first state in the nation to test this new model.

Without a complete count during the 2030 Census, Texas will continue to face challenges, losing resources, services, and investments for the next decade. The Hogg Foundation will continue to advocate for the people of Texas and to ensure that no money is left on the table when it comes to supporting the mental health and well-being of our communities.