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Everyone Counts: Council takes lead in accurate 2020 Census in King County


Calling for plan that tallies all residents, minimizing risks for undocumented residents


Preparation is underway for the 2020 U.S. Census, but actions by the Trump administration has put getting an accurate count in jeopardy. The Metropolitan King County Council today called on the County Executive to develop a plan that will allow for an accurate tally of county residents while reducing the risk to the undocumented living in the region.

“As King County continues to grow rapidly, it is absolutely critical that the census accurately captures the demographics of our region while protecting privacy for our county’s residents,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, prime sponsor of the motion. “The county relies on accurate census data, not only for federal funding, but also to efficiently deliver programs and services to our residents.”

“The census is one of the key ways in which power and resources are allocated in the United States. Power because census results determine how many members of the House of Representatives are allocated to each state. Resources because census results help determine how federal dollars and investments are spread among states,” said Council Vice Chair Claudia Balducci. “I am proud of the efforts King County will take to ensure that all our residents are counted in the coming census so that our people and our state receive the federal representation and resources we need and deserve.”

“We are in the midst of a housing crisis, an opioid epidemic, and our transportation system is in need of serious upgrades,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, co-sponsor of the legislation. “Without an accurate census count we won’t be able to secure the federal funding needed to address these chronic issues plaguing our county. At the same time, we must ensure our refugee and immigrant communities are not placed in harm’s way by this count and stand ready to defend them should the federal government attempt to use the census for nefarious purposes.”

The decennial census determines the apportionment of U.S. House of Representative seats as well as the appropriation of funding for a number of federal programs that are based on population. An undercount of the residents can mean losing funds directed toward programs such as Medicaid and WIC (Women Infant and Children). Based on information presented to the council by the George Washington Institute of Public Policy's figures, an undercount of one percent would result in the loss of $87.8 million of federal funds to King County for the next decennial.

The council wants to ensure that King County is counting all residents, prioritizing those that are considered part of hard to count (HTC) communities, defined as a census tract where the percentage of households that mailed back their 2010 census questionnaire (self-response rate) was 73 percent or less. In King County, 49 census tracts across 13 cities have been identified as HTC communities. 62 percent of the population in King County’s HTC communities represent people of color and 40 percent of the population in these communities are at or near poverty level.

The adopted motion calls on the executive to develop and transmit an implementation plan for the county to coordinate efforts for the 2020 Census with a focus on HTC communities. It calls for developing strategies to focus on engagement and outreach to HTC communities and consider the following guidelines:

• Establish new processes to ensure inclusion of communities that have historically been sidelined;
• Develop the plan in collaboration with stakeholders that reflect the experience and culture of HTC communities and prioritize consideration of community-based organizations that work with HTC communities; and
• Leverage work done by the county with HTC communities since the last decennial census such as the Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan and Communities of Opportunity.

For the first time in decades, the 2020 Census will include a question asking about citizenship. Today’s motion calls on the Executive to include an assessment of risk to undocumented immigrants who participate in the 2020 Census and strategies to minimize such risks, and strategies to advocate to the county’s federal legislative delegation to pressure the Department of Commerce to remove the question from the 2020 Census.
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