City of Houston

Houston Will Spend $650,000 To Boost 2020 Census Outreach

If the population is undercounted, billions of dollars in federal funding could be at stake.

Houston City Hall.

Houston City Council approved on Wednesday a $650,000 contract with Lopez Negrete Communications to help the federal government get an accurate headcount in the 2020 census, but councilmembers were divided on whether to fund the effort to boost community outreach.

Opponents like Councilmember Mike Knox were concerned the money would be used for partisan political work.

“So we’re going to put these people out on the street to collect numbers and fill out the census,” Knox said. “And ‘oh while we’re there, let’s register you to vote.’”

Councilmember Robert Gallegos dismissed those concerns.

“It really frightens me to hear someone say ‘oh my God, they may register someone to vote,’” Gallegos said. “That’s frightening.”

At last week’s meeting, some councilmembers said they shouldn’t spend the money in a tight budget year when they’re laying off firefighters to pay for Prop B salary increases. But Gallegos said Houston needs to invest in the census.

“Due to the fact that we have a president that’s trying to undercount the Hispanic community in regards to placing a citizenship question, which is going to affect the city of Houston, I’m ashamed that you even tried to relate this to Prop B, to undercount the Hispanic community,” Gallegos said.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether the census will include the controversial question about immigration status.

Others agreed with Gallegos for a different reason, saying the consultants would help get an accurate count of Houston residents who are still displaced from Harvey.

The city could end up investing $1.5 million in census outreach initiatives if a second round of funding is approved.

Billions of dollars in federal funding are at stake. Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city gets around $1,500 in federal funding for each person who is counted, and a 10% undercount of the population could cost the city $3.78 billion over the course of a decade.

Last month, Turner wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for the state to contribute funding as well. “Past Texas Governors Clements and Bush issued executive orders to create State Complete Count Committees. These committees were tasked with promoting Census outreach,” Turner said. “I urge you to secure funding of $5 to $10 million for this important priority. It is a small price to pay to make sure all our residents are counted, and every dollar invested will come back to Texas many times over.”

In 2020, the census forms will be available online, by phone or by mail. Six languages have been added. For the first time, people can respond in Arabic, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese and Tagalog.

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