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Committee to oversee Census count

October 5, 2018

HARLINGEN — The countdown is on.

Earlier this week, city commissioners approved forming a committee charged with convincing residents to fill out their U.S. Census forms to assure they are counted.

The 10-member committee will oversee a $25,000 marketing campaign aimed at reaching residents to stress the federal government gives the city $1,578 for every resident the census counts.

For the 2020 Census, the city will also provide residents with computers to allow them to go online to fill out their Census forms.

“ This is one of the most important things the city’s going to do in the next couple of years,” Mayor Chris Boswell said Wednesday, referring to the push to convince residents to be counted.

Boswell said he wants to avoid the city being undercounted as it has been in previous years.

“ We need to get the word out that everyone counts and we need to count everyone,” he said.

Soon, city commissioners will select the committee to be made up of members of businesses, churches, school districts and media, Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said during the meeting.

Boswell suggested the city’s large employers such the Harlingen school district and churches with significant congregations help get out the message, too.

What’s at stake

For the city, an accurate Census count boosts federal dollars.

Based on a formula, the city receives $1,578 for every resident the Census counts, Gonzalez said before the meeting.

“ We have to convince them it’s important to the city for them to fill it out because it means more federal dollars for the city,” Gonzalez said.

At the federal level, more residents mean more representatives are elected to Congress.

New question

In 2020, the Census will pose a new challenge to a complete count in areas with large numbers of undocumented immigrants.

This time, Census forms will ask people if they are U.S. citizens.

“ That might deter some people from filling it out,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an issue that we have to overcome.”

The city’s marketing campaign will include information in English and Spanish to try to assure residents their information will remain confidential.

“ The Census Bureau keeps all the information to itself,” Gonzalez said. “They don’t share it with other federal agencies.”

What’s gone wrong

Many residents have failed to request a census form or did not properly fill them out.

“ It may be some people didn’t get a notice and didn’t bother to get one and some didn’t bother to fill it out,” he said.

Residents living with their extended families might have failed to count themselves as members of the household.

“ Some didn’t know who to (count),” he said. “Everyone in a housing unit needs to be counted.”

During the previous census, the Bureau did not include homes in the Sunset, Vista Verde and New Hampshire-John Rose subdivisions, Gonzalez has said.

The Bureau’s count of 30,565 residential city addresses missed 1,440 addresses.

So the city has requested the Bureau add those 1,440 addresses to its total of city residences.

In a previous Census, the Bureau also counted a single resident for each home in an entire Census tract.

Undercount?

“ We definitely believe there was an undercount in 2010,” Gonzalez said.

The city, he said, disputes the 2010 Census’ population count of 64,849.

“ We consider that to be an unrealistic number,” Gonzalez said.

Then in 2016, he said, the census put the city’s population at 65,539.

However, the city estimates its population is about 75,000, Gonzalez said.

“ We know that count was significantly higher (than the census has recorded) because of the growth we’ve had, the traffic congestion we have, the number of new subdivisions, the increase in enrollment at the school district,” he said.

In past years, local leaders have argued the Bureau failed to accurately count residents.

In 2001, the city called for a review of Census figures, arguing it had undercounted 2,500 residents in newly-annexed areas.

A year earlier, Cameron County officials warned the undercount could cost the county more than $100 million from 2000 to 2010.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com

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