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Census Determines How Billions of Federal Dollars Are Spent

Because the census will determine how nearly $400 billion in federal funds are distributed each year, Hispanic advocates want to make sure all Latinos are counted. “We want to make sure investments are made in the community,” says Kara Ryan, a research analyst for health care policy at the National Council of La Raza.

The federal government uses census information on population density, levels of income, age, and other factors to determine how to spend money from dozens of programs. Accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated each person missed by the 2000 census would cost 169 metropolitan areas $3,391 in lost federal money between 2002 and 2012. That comes to about $340 per person per year.

Medicaid, the health program for the poor that helps many elderly Hispanics, is the largest program that distributes money through formulas based on census information. But other federal programs depend on the census too, including adult daycare grants and elderly nutrition grants that help older Latinos.

Since undercounts can cost communities a lot of money, Hispanic advocacy groups are making the 2010 census a priority this year. “There’s a huge effort to make sure that everyone is counted,” Ryan says.

Consider:

  • Census information was used to distribute about $340 billion in Medicaid funds to states in 2008.
  • Large cities are the most likely victims of undercounts—which often result in challenges by the nation’s big cities to census results.
  • California, Texas, and Georgia—states with growing Hispanic communities—suffered the biggest dollar losses because of undercounts in the 2000 census.
  •  Los Angeles County lost more money than any other county because of undercounts in the 2000 census—an estimated $636 million from eight programs whose funding levels are most affected by the census.

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