COMMENTARY: Let’s make Texas count

Like most districts in Texas, the 15th District of Texas is unique. Our district’s strange shape is long, narrow and stretches nearly 8,000 square miles, or roughly the size of Massachusetts, through Central and South Texas.

The 15th District runs from San Antonio’s eastern suburbs of Guadalupe County, zig zags south through Karnes and Live Oak Counties, and flows into Duval, Jim Hogg and Brooks Counties until finally ending in Hidalgo County at the Texas southern border.

Two things help explain the reason for our awkwardly shaped district: political gerrymandering and the once-a-decade Census.

WHY IS THE CENSUS IMPORTANT?

The once-a-decade Census is the basis of political power in America.

The Census is directly tied to political representation and the outcome of this process will determine if states receive more or less representation at the federal and state levels.

More than $675 billion in federal funds will be affected by the accuracy of this count. This means the Census will determine the federal resources each community receives for medical care, K-12 education, housing, transportation, infrastructure and much more.

And it is not only government programs who depend on the Census.

Businesses will use Census Bureau data to invest in up-and-coming and growing communities. An accurate and fair census could mean increased access to high paying jobs, day care facilities, new supermarkets and retail options in communities in the 15th District of Texas and across the nation.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO COUNT TEXAS?

According to the 2010 Census, the 15th District of Texas had a population of more than 776,887, but it is unfair to say that is even close to accurate. A recent map designed by the City University of New York found that five out of our eight counties are undercounted, and our district is labeled one of the hardest to count in the country.

Additionally, more than 1.5 million Black and Hispanic residents nationwide were undercounted in the 2010 Census depriving communities like ours of badly needed federal resources while simultaneously diminishing our ability to be heard.

Current projections predict that Texas could gain up to three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives; but that is only if everyone is counted.

Texas has experienced substantial growth over the past decade, once again leading the nation in population growth. While the population is estimated to have grown by 11.77% in Hidalgo County alone, we won’t be sure until the official numbers are tallied.

Despite a significant population bump throughout Texas, Republicans in Austin have blocked appropriate funding for state-wide Census efforts. In comparison, the California state legislature has invested $154 million to accurately count its population and aid the federal government in this effort.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO MAKE TEXAS COUNT?

In the U.S. House of Representatives, we have exercised our power of the purse to assure a successful 2020 Decennial Census. In the latest Commerce, Justice, & Science Appropriations bill, we provided a $275 million increase for the Census Bureau to ensure we have the most advanced, accurate and fair Census yet.

I am committed to a thorough 2020 Census that utilizes all of our grassroots resources and digital capabilities and guarantees we have enough computers and stable internet connections for those in our hard-to-count communities.

Sending out census door-knocking representatives is expensive, but I worked with the Census Bureau to establish an office in Hidalgo County and they are hiring people to help count their neighbors, friends and family members.

We need thousands of employees to make this happen and they have jobs available in every city across the country, including ours.

When the time comes you will be able to fill out the Census online, by phone or by mail.

Beginning today, March 12, households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census.

Please be wary of false mail promoting surveys designed to look like the Census.

If someone visits your home to collect information for the 2020 Census, verify that they have a valid ID badge, with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date.

In hard-to-count communities like ours, the 2020 Census is happening now and this effort will remain an ongoing process.

It’s vital we get this count right — the future of our community and the families, children and people of our district depend on it.

Let’s make Texas count!

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, represents Texas Congressional District 15, which extends from Hidalgo County to Bexar County.