public-policy newsletter

The Citizenship Question and the Future of the 2020 Census

July 23, 2019

By Marie Camino

The organizations that comprise the human services sector share a common mission: to help everyone reach their full potential and contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.  Over 300 programs that help lay the foundation for strong communities rely on accurate census data for funding. An inaccurate census count threatens well-being by compromising funding for federal programs, including many critical human services. A precise census also safeguards fair representation. The census determines how residents are represented in federal, state, and local legislative bodies by apportioning congressional seats, Electoral College votes, and drawing state and local legislative districts. An inaccurate census leads to disproportionate constituent representation at all levels of government.

A few weeks ago, the administration formally announced that the upcoming census would not contain the untested and unnecessary citizenship question. The inclusion of the question would have disincentivized immigrants from filling out the form due to fears about how the information would be used. Although the question will not be included on the census, it has likely done lasting damage to immigrants’ and people of colors’ willingness to fill out the survey, compromising a fair and accurate count that would ensure increased availability of supports and services that help all members of our communities thrive. For information on how your organization can work to overcome this fear and ensure that every member of your community is counted, check out this article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, written by Tim Delaney, President and CEO of our partners at the National Council of Nonprofits.

Moving Forward

In addition to leveraging your networks at the State and local levels to promote completion of the Census, there are some things you can do at the national level to promote a fair and accurate count.

The citizenship question fight may be dead, but harmful efforts to obtain data about immigration status persist. The administration recently issued an executive order mandating that executive departments and agencies share any data they have about the U.S. citizenship and noncitizenship status of everyone living in the United States. The bureau is currently prohibited by law from sharing personal data it collects with immigration authorities.

The Census Bureau originally proposed this policy as an alternative to the citizenship question in 2018, arguing that it would be far less costly and would not undermine willingness to fill out the census. While this may have been true then, increased anti-immigration rhetoric and “zero-tolerance” actions by the administration have instilled fear into our communities. This announcement likely adds to that fear.

It is imperative that we combat this anti-immigrant rhetoric in our advocacy communications and while speaking to our communities. Our partners at the Frameworks Institute offer this helpful guide on how to frame immigration in a way that effectively fills gaps in understanding about immigration policy and conveys how beneficial immigration can be for every community.

Counting Young Children

Organizations can also focus efforts on obtaining a complete and accurate count from other Hard to Count populations, including young children.

The census determines federal funding distribution for essential programs and services. Notably, the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) are responsible for the funding amount that goes to states for many federal medical and social service programs. Beyond that, significant state and local planning is dependent on the census for things such as school class size, business development, and other publicly available resources. When the population is undercounted, the need for teachers, grocery stores, and more, are underestimated. Historically, young children are grossly undercounted, negatively impacting resources, services, and supports available to children in our communities. In 2010, enumerators missed more than 10 percent of children age four or younger, or 2.2 million in total. The majority of these undercounted children live in communities of color.

Our partners in The Count All Kids Committee are working directly with the Census Bureau to improve plans to reach families with young children. The committee also supports state and local advocates in setting up Complete Count Committees that will conduct outreach in communities and help increase the response rate and accuracy of the census with respect to young children.

What Can You Do?

You can support the Count All Kids Campaign by:

  • Sign up for the coalition and campaign at;
  • Invite someone from the Committee to speak at your conference, webinar, or other event;
  • Highlight the undercount of young children in your organization’s newsletter;
  • Ask your local affiliates to help organization Complete Count Committees in states;
  • Distribute widely the outreach materials from the campaign as they become available.

For more information you can contact Deborah Stein directly at