Countdown to 2020 Census begins in Hidalgo County

This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (Michelle R. Smith | The Associated Press)

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County has one year to ensure that the 25,000 addresses that were not included in the 2010 Census will be counted next April.

Those addresses represent at least 90,000 people, according to Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, which translates to more than an estimated $153 million in lost federal funds each year over the past decade, which amounts to more than $1.5 billion.

Monday marked the one-year countdown to the 2020 Census and Cortez joined with local elected officials and business, education and civic leaders to launch Hidalgo County’s “United We Count – Unidos Contamos” campaign to raise awareness about the importance of a complete count.

“It’s extremely important that we maximize funds that come to our area from the federal government as well as the state government,” Cortez said. “We have an opportunity this census to be counted and … we must not fail in this important mission.”

The census, which occurs every 10 years, is a count of every person living in the United States — regardless of citizenship or immigration status — and is used to determine how congressional and state legislative boundaries are drawn and the amount of funds allocated for a range of federal programs tied to healthcare, housing, nutritional assistance, education and transportation infrastructure.

The county receives an estimated $1,600 a year in federal funds for each person counted by the census, Cortez said, and in a county where a third of residents live in poverty, receiving an accurate share of federal funding is important.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

Last census, the number of children under the age of five years old in Hidalgo County decreased by 4.5 percent, which impacted the amount of funding for Head Start, an early childhood education program for low-income children.

“How is that? That’s not what we’re seeing in our communities,” said Teresa Flores, executive director of the Hidalgo County Head Start Program.

Because of this undercounted population, Head Start funds have flatlined since 2013, Flores said, estimating that 16,000 pre-schoolers have gone underserved because the program has not been able to increase annual enrollments to match the community need.

County planners found approximately 25,000 addresses that were not included in the 2010 Census address book. The average number of people per household in 2010 was 3.6, which means these uncounted addresses resulted in about 90,000 people who were not counted.

This census, there are more than 332,000 households in Hidalgo County, which will likely bring the population to 1.2 million, not 860,000.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera attended Monday’s Census countdown and said leaders in neighboring counties are equally concerned with getting an accurate population count.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera

Last census, the city of Roma’s population declined from the 2,000 count, he said, despite the city building three new schools during that time to account for the growth in school-aged children.

“A lot of that is our fault. I think we just didn’t do what we had to do,” Vera said, “but this year we’re committed to doing (what we have to do).”

One reason Rio Grande Valley counties are traditionally hard to count is because they are home to large immigrant populations, many of whom are wary of someone coming to their homes and asking questions.

The possible addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census form has only compounded those fears. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over whether the Trump administration can include a citizenship question later this month.

Christina Patiño Houle, the network weaver for the RGV Equal Voice Network, called on residents to view the census as an opportunity to make their voice heard.

“We will, in Hidalgo County, at a moment when the rest of the nation is not listening to us, is not listening to our voice, we will in 2020 have our voices heard,” she said. “We will have the voices of every single individual be counted. At the minimum, we will say these are the people who are here right now (and) these are the resources that we deserve and this is the representation that we deserve.”

This is the first year households will be able to complete the census questionnaire online or by phone via a 1-800 number beginning March 23, 2020. Census workers will conduct home visits April 1, 2020 through July 2020.

Those interested in working a temporary census jobs, such as a door knocker, are encouraged to apply at 2020census.gov/jobs.