News update: Census is in deep trouble, tribes could lose millions of dollars

One estimate says every tribal citizen not counted costs their tribal government at least $3,000 in lost federal dollars

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American Indians and Alaska Natives are undercounted during the best of circumstances every time the U.S. conducts its once-a-decade count.

But this year?

The 2020 Census is in trouble. It's been in trouble for a while, said Norm DeWeaver, a consultant who has served on Census advisory boards, and has worked with tribes to improve their count.

DeWeaver said Census troubles have been brewing for several years because Congress hasn’t wanted to spend enough money on the process. Native communities have a number of problems, ranging from the lack of rural addressing to a justified concern about answering questions from the government.

Yet the stakes are huge. One estimate says that every tribal citizen who is not counted costs their tribal government at least $3,000 in lost federal support for services.

Let’s put that in perspective. If a 10,000 member tribe is undercounted by 5 percent, that’s a loss of $1.5 million a year in federal funds, every year for the next ten years. Many federal programs and block grants use Census numbers to determine spending.

There were supposed to be field tests at Standing Rock and at Colville, but those were called off to save money.

Another reason why the Census is so important is because it determines representation in the Congress and state legislatures. One Congressional district is about 700,000 people (except in states where there is one member for the entire state). Several states are hoping that population gains will mean an additional seat after the 2020 count.

So how do you fix the Census? The best answer would be more support from the Congress. But another answer is for tribes to do more of the work on their own -- in a way bailing the federal government out.

I am Mark Trahant for Indian Country Today.

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