Federal programs that help children in need are in danger of being underfunded, because almost 25 percent of the nation's children under five, some one million kids, are at risk of not being counted in the 2020 census, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday.
Some 300 federal programs depend on census data for a total of more than $800 billion funding annually, according to a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and if young children are being undercounted, that means less money will be allocated to such programs such as Medicaid and Head Start.
"If we don't count children, we render their needs invisible and their futures uncertain," Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy said in a statement.
"A major census undercount will result in overcrowded classrooms, shuttered Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms and more kids without health care."
Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation and coauthor of the report, emphasized that the children who are more likely to be undercounted — those from low-income families, immigrants or minorities — are the ones will most likely lose the most.
The problem has been growing over the last four decades and is expected to get even worse this time around due to the decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census survey, which might deter those who lack legal status from filling out the questionnaire.
There are currently some 17 million people in the U.S. who live in households with at least one person who is in the country illegally.
In addition, the study points out that there are technical reasons that add to the undercounting, such as the language barrier.
Children living with parents who often move or are homeless are also less likely to be counted, and grandparents or distant relatives who serve as guardians for children in the family are not always sure how to respond to the census questions.
The census bureau has made attempts to address these problems by making the questionnaire less confusing and building an online campaign aimed at educating households with young children on the importance of counting them in the survey, but recent budget cuts have made these efforts more difficult.
Compounding this is that the 2020 census will mostly be done online, which makes it difficult for low-income households or people who don't have regular access to internet to respond to the survey.
Speer emphasized in an interview with NPR that it is not too late to fix the problem, but "we need to maximize the Census Bureau's capacity to do the job right [by] fully funding them."
She also said that attention must be paid to help those without access to the internet to fill out the form.
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