Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: A Lot is at Stake for Northern Virginia in the 2020 Census

By Susan Finarelli

Next week the 2020 Census will hit your mailbox. It is important to City of Falls Church residents because of the new ways to respond, how it could make a difference in Virginia’s representation in Congress, and how the results will directly impact the City.

Our nation gets just one chance each decade to count its population. The Census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and takes place every 10 years. The data collected determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also determines the allocation of billions in federal funds to local communities for such programs as Highway Planning and Construction, Supplemental Food and Nutrition Assistance, Head Start, Foster Care, Title 1 Grants, Federal Student Aid and so much more.

This year, you will have three options for responding to the Census: by mail, by phone, and — brand new this year — online. The Census Bureau is making it as convenient as possible. The City and other jurisdictions will provide events to assist residents with completing the 2020 Census — look for details soon from the City government and our public schools.

As a reminder, there is no citizenship question on the 2020 Census. All responses to the Census are confidential, governed by strict confidentiality laws to protect respondents and the information they provide. (For more information on confidentiality and how your data is used, visit ask.census.gov.)

A lot is at stake for Northern Virginia in the 2020 Census: for every resident who is not counted, the region loses $1,200 per person per year for 10 years, or $12,000 total, in federal assistance. If our region is not fully counted in the Census, we will miss out on money for our children’s classrooms, health care, parks, and transportation infrastructure for the next 10 years. The sheer scope of the potential loss in federal financial support is stunning and imposes an urgency upon these efforts.

According to the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy, more than $17.7 billion was distributed to Virginia from the 55 largest federal assistance programs during 2016 alone, all based on the decennial census count from 2010. The Census also determines funding for special education, teacher training, technology, school lunch assistance, Head Start and after-school programs, and Community Development Block Grants.
Andw Virginia, along with Arizona and Oregon, are estimated to be frontrunners for an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives if the population growth is on the high end of estimates.

The importance of the 2020 Census cannot be overstated. It will require a count of a very diverse and growing population of 2.4 million people in Northern Virginia with 1 million housing units.

Census Day is April 1. That means that when you fill out the Census, you should count everyone who is living in your home as of April 1, 2020. This includes any friends or family members who are living and sleeping in your household most of the time. If someone is staying in your home and has no usual home elsewhere, you should count them in your Census response. Also be sure to count roommates, elderly relatives, and anyone who is renting a space in your home.

It is important to remember to count any children who are living with you. This includes all children who live in your home, including foster children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and the children of friends (even if they are living with you temporarily). You should include any children who split their time between homes if they are living with you on April 1, 2020. If a college student is living at college in student housing or off campus housing, they should not be counted with your Census response.

Virginia was in the top 10 states that had the highest number of undercounted children in the 2010 Census. Children of color were missed twice as often in the 2010 Census as white children. Nearly a quarter of all children under five in our state live in Northern Virginia, and the majority of those children are children of color.

The 2020 Census is also valuable to businesses looking to move into the City. Business owners rely on the Census results to make decisions, such as where to open new stores, restaurants, factories, or offices, where to expand operations, where to recruit employees, and which products and services to offer.

The 2020 Census is easy. You will answer a simple questionnaire about yourself and everyone who is living with you on April 1, 2020. You can complete it by phone, by mail, or even on your smartphone. And, as a result, the City and our region could gain additional federal representation, receive funding for a number of critical programs, see new business and employment opportunities, and benefit us all.

Susan Finarelli is the director of communications for the City of Falls Church.