Census undercount threatens to punish our vulnerable for another 10 years, Perry shrugs

Greg Harman

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What's a billion dollars of free social services worth? Apparently, not the carefully cultivated anti-Washington rugged-individual political image of Governor Rick Perry. Less than two weeks away from Censusmania, the state's true hair-care magnate has failed to make any motion to ensure Texas' consistently undercounted population is accurately recorded.

It was nearly four months ago when state Representative Mike Villarreal wrote to Perry, urging him to “ensure our state government is taking every appropriate step to ensure the highest possible level of participation by Texas residents” in the Census. Response? Dialtone.

As the second-highest undercounted state of the 2000 Census, Texas may be about to flub its chance to not only rake in hundreds of millions in taxes (taxes we have already paid), but also increase the number of Congressional seats we hold, according to Anna Alicia Romero, regional census director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). (You can hear our full conversation below.)

“If we succeed, we will receive more of our own tax dollars back from the Federal government, easing our ability to meet our needs in transportation, education, health and human services and other areas,” Villarreal wrote back on October 13, 2009.

Specifically, Texas should set up a “complete count” committee as 18 other states have done and make use of state agencies to get the Census message to historically hard-to-count populations, such as “elderly, children, minorities, renters and low-income.”

Now, we get that poor folks aren't exactly Perry's base, but why would the state throw away $1 billion for social services like foster and child care, substance abuse and treatment, Medicaid payments, and jobs training by risking another undercount? That's how much the state was estimated to have lost thanks to an undercount of more than 370,000 residents, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Other states haven't been as shy about working to get the maximum share of their taxes back from the Feds. Complete-count committees have been set up in Alabama, Florida, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Utah, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Ohio, Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, and New York.

Romero testified before the House Committee on Redistricting late last year that:

According to the `PricewaterhouseCoopers` report, four states accounted for almost 40 percent of the national undercount, and Texas made the list, placing second after California. An estimated 373,567 individuals in our state were not counted or 1.76 percent of our total state population. The report estimated that every missed person would have yielded approximately $2,913 in federal aid with a total approximate loss of over $1 billion for the 2002-2012 period.

Perry has spent much of the last year endearing himself to the most anti-Washington/anti-immigrant voters of Tea-Party dispositions, suggesting that the Lone Star has a right to secede from the United States (wacko applause meter ringing) and that we don't need those federal funds to extend unemployment assistance as our burgeoning work-hungry ranks swell. Needless to say, he didn't so much as write Villarreal back on the topic, a staffer confirmed this morning.

Perry's inaction has pushed the burden of Census organizing back onto the Census Bureau and whatever grassroots community-action orgs care enough to hit the street. MALDEF will focus its efforts along the exploding U.S. border counties, but here in San Antonio Southwest Workers Union will be walking blocks across the Alamo City in a “Count Us Right” drive. And here's a call-out to area artists: create a new logo for the campaign and earn yourself $1,000. (This Census stuff is paying off already, right?!)

Watch your mailbox mid-month for the bi-lingual forms containing detailed instructions on how to officially celebrate “Census Day” on April 1. Word is we get just a few weeks to mail 'em back before the newly mobilized border mobs seeking expanded political representation and reliable childcare begin the march north to make this registration stuff personal. And, no, your landlord doesn't get a copy.

If neither the social-responsibilty nor mob-justice stuff hooks you, allow us to trot out the Census Bureau's Secret Weaponâ?¦

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