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U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and State Rep. Diego Bernal were among the federal, state, and local officials on hand Thursday to celebrate the official opening of the San Antonio area U.S. Census Bureau offices.
Doggett (D-Austin), who represents much of Bexar County, urged the community to encourage their neighbors to participate in the census for an accurate count of not only the Bexar County area, but of Texas as a whole.
For every 1 percent of the population not counted, Texas loses an estimated $300 million in federal funding, Doggett said at a press conference at El Progreso Hall on Guadalupe Street. That’s money that would go toward transportation, education, health care, and housing in Texas.
“Everyone counts here to secure our future,” he said. “Everyone must be counted. What starts here in this office sets the course of what happens in San Antonio for the next decade.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated it undercounted Texans by 239,500 in the 2010 census.
“That’s troubling,” Doggett said. “ And it’s made more difficult by recent politically-motivated obstacles that are designed to discourage participation, particularly by Hispanics.”
John Bravacos, the general deputy assistant secretary in community planning and development for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, stressed that many of the programs that HUD funds are formula grants, which means resources are distributed based on population size and need.
“If you’re not counted, you don’t get your fair share,” he said.
Officials emphasized that census data is private and never shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A citizenship question was struck from the census by the U.S. Supreme Court, something that advocates worried would deter people whose families include undocumented immigrants from answering the census and result in an undercount.
Texas also faces the challenge of not having state support to advertise and execute the census in 2020. The Texas Legislature failed to allocate state funding toward the census last session, potentially increasing the likelihood of an undercount. In the U.S., 21 states have established a Complete Count Commission and 17 have established a commission and allocated funding to the census, according to the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Local governments in Texas are responsible for creating their own groups dedicated to ensuring everyone is counted; Bexar County launched its own in April. The committee aims to educate Bexar County residents about the importance of having an accurate population count in 2020.
Bernal (D-San Antonio) said state lawmakers decided against providing financial support for the census in Texas because an undercount could affect the way districts are drawn to one party’s benefit, an apparent reference to Republican redistricting priorities.
“That’s insidious,” he said. “It can hurt us and it has hurt us.”
With its growing population, Texas could gain as many as three congressional representatives in the U.S. House.
“If we count everyone, we have the chance of expanding our delegation and our voice in Washington,” Doggett said.
San Antonio’s census offices are located on Woodcock Drive on the North Side, on South Zarzamora Street on the West Side, and on Dollarhide Avenue on the East Side.
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Local census staffers just finished confirming addresses in San Antonio, said Juan Hinojosa, manager of the Eastside census office. They next will start gathering census data from group quarters such as nursing homes, prisons, and jails.
The U.S. Census Bureau still needs to hire additional employees; the San Antonio-area offices anticipate hiring 4,500 workers in Bexar County, said Dennis Johnson, deputy regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Denver region, which includes Texas.
About 200 people are currently working for the local census offices, Hinojosa said.
“As long as everyone applied by end of year, they’ll be in the pool of applicants for us to start selecting in February,” Hinojosa said.
To apply to the U.S. Census Bureau, click here.
The census will be distributed and available online for people to fill out starting mid-March, Johnson said. Paper forms also will be available for people who don’t have internet access or who prefer to fill out the census that way.
“This is critically important to this community and every single community across the country,” Johnson said.
“We are all going out there and we’re not going to just do the census, we’re going to shape our future.”