State funding, representation depends on Census results

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2020

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In 2020, Alabamians have the opportunity to positively affect their state’s future for the next 10 years and beyond by taking less than 10 minutes to complete a 2020 Census form. In 2010, 72 percent of Alabamians filled out the Census compared to the national average of 74 percent.

As of May 4, 2020, Alabama’s participation rate was 54.8 percent

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Census Bureau has revised its schedule of operations to ensure there is still plenty of time for households to complete their forms. The self-response phase will run three months longer, ending on October 31 rather than July 31.

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Peter A. Jones, assistant professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Alabama Birmingham, said it is most important for all Alabamians to be counted because the outcome will determine the political representation and distribution of federal funding among other things over the following 10 years.

“Alabama is like to lose a congressional seat after the 2020 Census because of our slow population growth relative to other states,” Jones said. “As congressional districts are re-drawn, it is likely that rural areas will be re-grouped into larger congressional districts. This is particularly concerning for Alabamians in rural area because they could have less responsive representation.”

Jones said, from an economic standpoint, the Census helps determine how the share of federal funding is distributed across states.

“Alabama gets a great deal when it comes to federal funding because we pay in far less in federal taxes per capita than we receive in federal aid per capita,” Jones said. “This federal money is incredibly important for our state’s budget. More than one-third of Alabama’s state budget is funded with transfers from the federal government. In 2017, Alabama received more than $10 billion in federal aid.”

Jones said federal funding is even more vital now, considering the economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has caused for Alabama.

“Since states have to balance their budgets, Alabama will likely have to make expenditure cuts moving forward because tax revenues have and will continue to decline, relative to last year. So, the more federal aid Alabama can get will mean less drastic cuts.”

Beyond the impact on Alabama’s state budget, the Census count is used to determine funding for more than 100 formula-based federal programs including Medicaid and Medicare.

The federal government also funds programs that directly affect rural areas including funding for clean waterways, which Jones said is especially relevant to Alabama and its vast freshwater resources.

Federal programs also provide funding for rural domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking assistance programs and rural business enterprise grants.

“In short, the more Alabamians we can count, especially rural Alabamians, the more federal funding we will receive for these very important programs,” Jones said.

“And, those dollars will also help provide a stopgap to the looming budget crisis our state legislature will face.”