By REBECCA SHANKLAND
The League of Women Voters heard from Robert Rhatigan, head of the New Mexico Census, at its monthly Lunch with a Leader Aug. 21. Rhatigan outlined the many problems that face New Mexico for the census, which is crucial for supporting many federal programs that benefit our citizens.
In 2010, the census in New Mexico had an accurate count because high unemployment during the recession and a federal stimulus package meant that many census workers were hired to help collect forms from remote and undercounted areas.
But the 2020 census lacks money to hire these workers. Further, the possible question on citizenship, still under a lawsuit, will undoubtedly depress the response rate even though personal information is protected by law.
Rhatigan’s chief concern with an undercount is what it means for the billions of dollars that come to the state based on population. He said that an undercount of 1 percent, which represents 20,000 people, will result in a loss of 600 million dollars in federal funds over the next 10 years.
New Mexico receives $6.2 billion a year from the federal government, or $3,000 for every New Mexican. Of that, $4.1 billion is for Medicaid reimbursement. Other programs that distribute funds on the basis of the census include the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Programs (SNAP, currently under threat in the Farm Bill), highway planning and construction, Medicare Part B, Title 1 grants to local education agencies, the National School Lunch Program, and many others.
The sequence for the census in 2020 is as follows:
- Prior to March 23, every residential address receives a postcard with a unique identifier.
- On April 1, every residential address receives a postcard enabling online registration (65-70 percent expected to register).
- On April 8, the remaining addresses will receive a paper questionnaire or call.
- On April 15, the remaining 20 percent or so will have a follow-up call or visit.
- In 2010, each unresponsive residence was contacted up to six times, but that won’t happen this year.
What can be done? Rhatigan wants the governor to sign an executive order to establish a Complete Count Committee so that the legislature will fund it in the 2019 session ($2 million has already been designated). Then Complete Count Committees can be created all over New Mexico by all levels of government, school districts, business leaders, faith groups, and non-profits, especially those that serve the immigrant community. Mobile response stations can go to areas that lack internet access. But Rhatigan says that much effort will be required to avoid an undercount.