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DETCOG Receives Census Update

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East Texas is Counting on You

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – During the Thursday, June 25 telephonic meeting of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) Board of Directors, the board received an update on the 2020 Census.

Joining the meeting, via the internet, was Dr. Lila Valencia, Senior Demographer for the Texas Demographic Center. Dr. Valencia was on hand to apprise the board on the progress of the 2020 Census and its response rates in Texas and the Deep East Texas region.

“Right now,” she began, “we are in the middle of decennial count. We want to make sure everyone in Texas is counted. As you know, the census is important for the reapportionment of the US House of Representatives where the number of congressional seats for each state is determined. Also, it helps determine the number of Electoral College votes. We also use census data to redraw congressional and state legislative districts.”

Valencia said data from the census affects representative boundaries at the local level as well by how city council or school board member districts are drawn.   

“The census data is also used by businesses to inform them on market research, headquarters, store fronts and economic development. Lastly, and much more impactful to local communities is that $1.5 trillion in federal dollars are derived from census data. This goes to support all sorts of federal programs like healthcare, education, transportation and other programs as well,” she said.   

As far as the $1.5 trillion and the state of Texas, Valencia indicated in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, Texas received $101 billion of federal funding to help pay for programs like Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, WIC and several others.

“Texas is a large state to count and in the past, we have had an undercount of our population. We are thinking there might be as many as seven million Texans who may be at risk of an undercount. There are projections we could undercount half a million Texans in the 2020 Census. We are working very hard to try and chip away at that,” she said.   

As of June 25, 2020, Valencia went on to say, 56.4 percent of households have responded to the census in Texas, which is below the national average of 61.7 percent.  All counties In the DETCOG region are below the state and national response rates, with Angelina County having the highest response rate per household at 52.9 percent. 

The breakdown of the response rates for the 12 county region is as follows: Nacogdoches County, 49.6; Houston County, 43.3; Shelby County 42.9; San Jacinto County, 40.8; Jasper County, 39.5; Polk County 39.1; Tyler County, 35.3; Trinity County, 34.6; Newton County, 33.2; San Augustine County, 28.1; and Sabine County, 27.6.        

Dr. Valencia explained that Deep East Texas response rates are lower because the Census Bureau chose not to mail forms to most rural households.  Instead, the plan was to hand deliver census packets to the rural residents; however, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed that and many residents of Deep East Texas are just now receiving their forms. 

Once Valencia concluded her presentation, DETCOG Executive Director Lonnie Hunt addressed the meeting attendees.

“Dr. Valencia mentioned the $101 billion dollars coming to the state of Texas in various programs, based on the federal census. There are 29 million Texans, approximately. So, if you do the math that gives you roughly $3,500 per person in the state of Texas. Those are services funded by federal census dollars, he said.

In Deep East Texas, Hunt continued, there are approximately 385,000 people. An undercount of just three percent – or 11,550 people – would mean a loss of over $40 million in funding for the DETCOG region.

“The dollars do add up. The other things are really important too as far as having our fair share of representation in the federal and state governments. I cannot say enough about the importance of us making an all-out push,” Hunt said.        

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.   

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