Democratic U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford says ensuring everyone in Nevada is counted in the 2020 federal census is a high-stakes affair: The Silver State could be in line to gain a fifth seat in Congress, depending on the official outcome.
“Nevada gained a congressional seat — for a total of four — after the 2010 census and could be in a position to gain a fifth following an accurate census count,” Horsford said last week.
Horsford, whose district includes much of North Las Vegas and a large swath of rural central Nevada, met Thursday with the Las Vegas Sun editorial board. He said he recently launched a census task force in the 55-member Congressional Black Caucus. The task force’s goal is to increase participation among all groups in the 2020 census.
In 2010, according to the Congressional Black Caucus, about 800,000 African-Americans weren’t counted in the census, which could have had a detrimental effect in the undercounted areas. Every person not counted represents around $20,000 in annual lost federal revenue to that person’s local community, Horsford said.
“In the end, good participation in the census achieves two things: representational power in Congress and the Electoral College — how our legislative and local boundaries are drawn — and how the disbursement of $900 billion of annual funding is determined,” he said.
The federal funds go toward multiple programs, such as housing assistance, Title I funding for low-income schools, Pell grants for many college students, food-assistance programs, transportation services and public infrastructure.
A bitter, extended fight over the Trump administration’s desire to ask “Is this person a citizen of the United States” on 2020 census forms led to concerns that people — especially in the immigrant community — would avoid filling out the 2020 survey. After a divided Supreme Court dealt the administration a setback in its quest to include the question, President Donald Trump reluctantly dropped his fight and said the federal government would seek the information by other means.
During his meeting at the Sun, Horsford expressed concern over the potential cooling effects the Trump administration’s actions could have on census participation, not only among the immigrant community but among many minority communities. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable responding to a governmental agency right now,” Horsford noted.
Emily Zamora, executive director of Silver State Voices and a member of the Nevada Complete Count Committee, said the fight over the citizenship question has colored people’s perception of the census.
“Without a doubt, there is still … nervousness and fear,” she said. She said it is important to work with demographics including Hispanic and indigenous communities, to alleviate their concerns about the government.
Horsford is hoping to do that and more as the chair. He outlined three goals he had for his group.
• “One is to hold this administration accountable to do a complete, fair and accurate count and to hold their feet to the fire to do their job,” he said.
• He hopes to also involve community organizations in the push for further census involvement, and to create a “toolkit” for members of Congress that would teach them how to use their official resources to assist in achieving a complete count.
“Rather than just relying on the (Census Bureau) to get this done, we’re going to need more community organizations,” he said. “And fortunately, this is the first census in many decades that also aligns with the presidential election, so hopefully that will mean more people are engaged.”
• He also wants to increase the accurate counting of African American and other minority communities by maximizing their participation in the census.
“There are what are called hard-to-count census communities, and those communities tend to be communities of color and rural communities,” he said.
The challenges of reaching all communities, he said, will likely be exacerbated by the cuts the Trump administration has made to the Census Bureau. Horsford said the administration has decreased the amount of census offices from over 400 to around 240, and the regional offices from 12 to 6.
The 2020 census will be the first to be done mostly online, and Horsford said he was concerned about the impact that move may have on some Nevada residents.
“I have rural communities that don’t have adequate broadband connectivity or access to computers,” he said.
Zamora said the internet accessibility issue, while relevant in rural areas, is not confined to them.
“There is even the concern around areas like Las Vegas and Reno,” she said, noting that families without the ability to pay for internet service could possibly go uncounted if they aren’t aware of alternatives.
Horsford said educating the public is the best way to increase participation in the census.
“We don’t talk enough about it. I know it only comes up every 10 years, but, again, I can’t in good conscience know that we have an administration that’s not really focused on helping people, and in fact they’re doing things to try and discourage them from being civically involved,” Horsford said.” We’ve always had a historic problem in certain communities.”