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Column: Stand up and be counted in 2020 census

by Rep. Lori Trahan, Eagle Tribune

Lawrence is ready to stand up and be counted.

That is the lesson I walked away with last week when my colleague from New York, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, joined me for a census 2020 forum at Terra Luna in Lawrence. Surrounded by community leaders like Mayor Rivera and City Councilor Jeovanny Rodriguez, I left this event more energized and resolute to take this presentation on the importance of the census to communities throughout our district.

The Constitution requires the government to conduct the Census every 10 years. The first was performed in 1790; and the nation has held more than 20 since then.

One cannot overstate the importance of each resident in the Merrimack Valley and across the commonwealth participating in the census when the count is made next spring.

During the 2010 census, the participation rate across the state was 75%. However, in the 3rd Congressional District, which I represent, participation broke 78% – running not only ahead of the statewide average for Massachusetts, but also New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. That is a strong response rate. However, in the 3rd District, we won’t stop until we reach 100%.

An accurate census will make an enormous difference to our region for the next decade. Andrew Reamer, a professor at The George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy, estimates that 55 federal programs rely on census data to guide the distribution of over $880 billion in a given year. Those funds directly improve our children’s health, support public schools and housing, assist senior citizens and working families, and finance highway and bridge improvements – and much, much more.

Census data drives federal funding allocation for formula-based grants and loans, tax expenditures and federal procurement programs.

Grants and loans allocated based, in part, by census data include Medicaid, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 housing and the Community Development Block Grant, as well as others.

In a single year, these programs can provide over $20 billion to the commonwealth.

For example, over the past 15 years, the city of Lawrence has received nearly $30 million from the Community Development Block Grant – a flexible funding program that’s used for parks, infrastructure, nonprofit programs and more.

Second, census data is used for direct tax expenditure programs, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) programs. Over the years, the LIHTC has contributed to the development or preservation of nearly 8,000 homes in the Third Congressional District and generated billions in tax revenue. Its financing has secured the availability of scores of affordable housing units in Lawrence, Methuen, and Andover. Similarly, the NMTC program attracts private investment in areas where access to capital can be challenging. It contributed millions in financing for Lawrence General Hospital’s expansion, and other local projects.

Third, Census data is used for federal procurement programs, including the Small Business Administration’s Highly Underutilized Business Zone program. The HUBZone program offers small businesses in eligible census tracts, including several in Lawrence and Methuen, special federal contracting opportunities.

Unfortunately, the White House is undermining the census by underfunding it to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in the administration’s budget proposal.

Additionally, the White House is demanding the inclusion of an unnecessary and potentially harmful citizenship question on the census.


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