Government / Politics

How the census affects local government services

Census says each person not counted is a loss of federal or state funds to the tune of $2,000 per year for 10 years.

Over the next 10 years, more than $675 billion in federal funds will be distributed annually to states. The amount each state received will be determined by the results of the 2020 Census.

States will administer those funds to counties for roads, schools, hospitals and more. How well a community is counted in the census directly impacts how much funding it receives.

The count began April 1 by mail, phone and online. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, each person not counted could mean a loss of $2,000 per year for the next 10 years for a county’s various agencies. With an estimated 61,537 residents, this involves more than $123 million in potential annual funding for San Benito County.  

According to a Census Bureau report, the federal government used census data in 2015 to distribute over $675 billion for 132 programs including $311 billion for Medicaid, $71 billion for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), $70 billion for Medicare Part B and $38 billion for highway planning and construction. 

San Benito County management analyst Dulce Alonso, who’s also spearheading the San Benito County Census Complete Count Committee, said census counts directly and indirectly impact county programs.

For example, Alonso said about 12% of county residents receive assistance through CalFresh, a supplemental nutrition program. An undercount in the 2020 Census would mean less federal funding for this program. 

Housing programs in San Benito County would also be adversely affected by an undercount. When it comes to those programs, Alonso said the state looks not only at the population figure, but at income levels and demographics. Several housing programs help San Benito residents throughout the year, including:

  • Section 8 vouchers—about 440 were allocated in Hollister and San Juan Bautista.
  • Housing assistance—helps about 45 households annually receive assistance in the form of rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing. This helps about 112 household members.
  • Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program—about 800 households annually use this program for utility assistance to prevent shut-offs.
  • Migrant housing—there are about 492 seasonal migrant farmworkers at the San Benito County Migrant Center. According to the county’s 2019-20 budget, the Migrant Labor Camp Fund was approved at $599,302 and is funded through state grants. The county spent $244,649 in 2017-18 to run the center. The cost is estimated to have increased to $392,621 this fiscal year, according to the budget. 
  • HOME Resource Center—the local homeless shelter serves about 260 individuals, while the winter shelter assists about 80 individuals a year.   

In addition to impacting county programs and services, Alonso also said all the information collected through the census is used by the state for grants for projects like community parks.

“When the county applies for grants, a significant scoring element of the plan includes the population that the award would serve,” Alonso said. “The income level and demographic information are typically required, and a component of the grant.”



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BenitoLink Hard to Count reporting was partially funded by the Census Fund through Community Foundation for San Benito County.


Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.