Area census office to open in 2019

McALLEN — The U.S. Census Bureau will open an area office in Hidalgo County to ensure everyone in South Texas is properly counted in 2020 — instead of relying only on a regional office based in San Antonio.

Every 10 years the federal government takes self-reported population counts to help officials make a slew of important decisions, including how to distribute federal dollars to states, how many congressional districts are needed and even how many judges should serve an area.

The move comes after local elected leaders, including U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, asked the bureau for help in ensuring everyone is properly surveyed.

Gonzalez wrote a letter to Ron Jarmin, acting director of the bureau, Sept. 27. The letter asked for the “prompt” opening of a Valley office and noted the area has long been undercounted.

The last Census, which occurred in 2010, estimated Hidalgo County’s population at 774,770. As of July 1, 2016, the bureau estimated Hidalgo County’s population had grown by nearly 10 percent to 849,843, Gonzalez said. But the bureau reported a low response score of 32.7 percent.

Gonzalez welcomed the decision Wednesday and thanked Jarmin for “recognizing the need to count all people living in South Texas.” The new office will be based in Hidalgo County, but will also serve Cameron, Starr and Willacy Counties. It is expected to open in the summer of 2019.

“With an Area Census Office, we can more accurately, effectively, and efficiently count the recent growth in the Rio Grande Valley and hopefully see an allocation of federal funds that matches this growth,” Gonzalez said.

Texas could gain four seats in Congress from its population growth, Vicki McIntire, assistant regional director for the Census Bureau based in Denver, previously told The Monitor.

But even if one family is not counted, that could translate to a loss of about $100,000 dollars for our region, according to information provided by Michael Seifert, of the ACLU of Texas and Equal Voice Network, during a healthcare conference in Edinburg two weeks ago.

In an effort to avoid an under count, the bureau announced it will give residents the opportunity to self-respond via the internet, phone, paper form or a traditional in-person interview beginning March 23, 2020.

The data collected is confidential, protected and cannot be shared with other government agencies under federal law.