Researchers: 2020 Census Guides $1.5 Trillion in Spending

In 2017, 316 federal spending programs relied on 2010 Census-derived data to distribute $1.504 trillion to state and local governments, nonprofits, businesses, and households across the nation — more than previously thought, according to researchers at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy.

The spending, which accounted for 7.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product in FY2017, varied substantially in terms of size, geographic focus, and extent of reliance on and uses of census data. The common factor across these programs is that a state or area’s receipt of its fair share of federal funds depends on the accuracy of its census population count.

According to the report:

Distribution of Census-Guided Spending by Program Sets

Medicare – Medicare Parts A, B, and D account for $710.2 billion of census-guided spending (47.4 percent). These programs use census-derived data to define multiple geographic classifications by which to allocate Medicare funding and services. (Medicare Part C is census-guided and funded through Parts A and B.)

FMAP-based funding – Medicaid and six smaller Department of Health and Human Services programs rely on the annually updated Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), based on each state’s per capita income, to determine reimbursement and matching payment rates ($405.2 billion, 27.0 percent of censusguided funding).

All other programs – The remaining 306 programs distribute $388.8 billion (25.8 percent). These programs can be subdivided into:

  • Local only – 173 programs rely only on local-level census-derived data ($260.1 billion, 17.3 percent).
  • State and local – 39 programs rely on both state- and local-level census-derived data ($73.9 billion, 5.0 percent).
  • State only – 94 programs rely only on state-level census-derived data ($53.7 billion, 3.6 percent).

The full list of 316 census-guided programs is available on the Counting for Dollars 2020 website (in Excel).

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted once every 10 years. Census data is used to determine the number of seats each state holds in Congress and how federal funds are distributed back to states and local communities every year for services and infrastructure, including health care, jobs, schools, roads, and businesses.

An accurate census count, or lack thereof, has a lasting effect on counties, particularly when it comes to the distribution of federal funds. An under-counted population may lead to a significant decline in federal funding flowing to county governments or county residents.

At the MACo Winter Conference session, “2020 Census: The Foundation for Our Future,” attendees will learn about state and local resources and best practices to promote a fair and accurate 2020 Census.

The 2019 MACo Winter Conference, Building for the Future,” will be held on December 4-6, 2019, at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: