Las Vegas • Nevada stands to lose nearly $170 million in federal funding for health care and child welfare programs over the next decade if even 1% of state residents don’t participate in next year’s census, state officials estimate.
Every person included in the decennial headcount will earn the state an estimated $1,600 for infrastructure projects, Medicaid and other government programs.
They’ll also help the Silver State retain its four U.S. House of Representatives seats and play a role in updating boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.
“There’s a lot at stake on ensuring that we have the correct information on who lives in Nevada.” Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said.
But with less than a year until Census Day 2020, Kirkpatrick and other officials are concerned Nevada’s count could suffer because of a proposed census question about citizenship status, the 2020 presidential primaries and waning public trust in the U.S. government.
“I think concern about the census comes from all political spectrums,” Nevada State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle told the Las Vegas Review-Journal . “I think there’s this, at times on both sides now, concern about government intrusion.”
To ensure a full count, Gov. Steve Sisolak has budgeted $5 million in state funds to promote the census, compared with $1 million the state spent for the last count in 2010.
The Democratic governor on Wednesday named 10 members to a "Nevada's Complete Count Committee," chaired by Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall. Members include state elected officials, Davis Gonzalez of the Elko Band Council of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, Rev. Ralph Williamson of First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Las Vegas and Dagny Stapleton, of the Nevada Association of Counties.
This summer, the U.S. Census Bureau plans to open temporary offices in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas and staff them with hundreds of workers. The two cities have neighborhoods where the agency projects more than 30% of residents are unlikely to complete a questionnaire by mail, online or phone.
Six full-time census employees from a variety of professional and ethnic backgrounds are already working to drive that percentage down.
"We're advocates helping organizations learn about the census and having them help us reach their community," said census worker Jorge Rangel, a 45-year-old Navy veteran and retired police officer.
Arlene Alvarez, a census worker and former community organizer for Mi Familia Vota, said federal funding is the cornerstone of the education effort.
"When you talk about the tangibles in their community is when people respond to the census," she said. The survey takes 10 minutes to complete, and it affects you for 10 years."
Arlene Alvarez, a census worker and former community organizer for Mi Familia Vota, said federal funding is the cornerstone of census education.
"The survey takes 10 minutes to complete, and it affects you for 10 years," she told the Review-Journal. "When you talk about the tangibles in their community is when people respond to the census."
Anyone who doesn't complete the census can expect a government worker with the questionnaire at their door sometime between next April and July.
But stragglers will be asked to complete the census at a time when Kirkpatrick said she's concerned a stream of political canvassers during the 2020 presidential primaries will fatigue residents.
"People stop opening their door," the commission chairwoman told census workers during a recent County Commission meeting. "In the summertime they're for sure not answering their door."
The Census Bureau plans to hire 1,000 field staff members in Nevada to undertake the canvassing effort.
County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, representing parts of North Las Vegas, said he hopes the bureau hires community activists from neighborhoods they're trying to reach.
"You have to have people that communities can relate to, that people will know so they feel safe," he said. "Know where you're going, and know who you're talking to."
Undercount concerns stretch to Elko County, where West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona is anxiously awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments Tuesday about the legality of the Trump administration proposal to add a census question asking whether each person being counted is a U.S. citizen. A ruling is expected in coming months.
"There's a lot of fear because we have a large foreign-born population," Corona said. "A lot of those folks here are undocumented, so they see it as a way of the government trying to find them, single them out and deport them."
One-fifth of the city's 5,000 residents were born outside the country, Corona said. Most come from Mexico and are attracted to working in West Wendover's gambling and hospitality industry.
Corona said the tiny city on the Nevada-Utah border between Elko and Salt Lake City depends heavily on federal funds tied to census results. In the past decade, it has built a new fire station, repaved and lighted the main thoroughfare and begun constructing a downtown.
“Getting those grants or not could determine whether we’re able to do a project,” Corona said. “A lot of them are focused on economic development. Obviously businesses want to be in an area that has nice streets and is well-lit.”
A research paper by agency employees published in August found a citizenship question would decrease response rates from households with noncitizens.
Such an effect could have a strong impact throughout Nevada. A Pew Research study released last month found unauthorized immigrants make up 7.1% of the state population, the largest proportion of any state.
Nevada census workers acknowledge that the citizenship question has raised concerns during outreach efforts.
In response to confidentiality concerns, they're distributing flyers informing residents their census answers cannot be used against them.
“Whether the question is on there or not, the information will be kept confidential,” Alvarez said.