Being counted matters a lot! Just a few weeks ago, the Montana Community Foundation participated in the first Montana 2020 Complete Census Count Committee meeting where people from across Montana gathered to discuss how best to get the word out about the importance of getting an accurate count. April 1, 2020, may seem like it's a long way off, yet it will be here before we know it. The Census is so incredibly important to Montana that spreading the word early and often is vital to our success. Success? Yes, the Census will ultimately be a success or failure for all of us here in Montana and it's up to all of us to ensure that success.
Why is the Census so important? How about $20,000 in lost funding per person who goes uncounted? That's right - over the course of a decade, we lose $2,000 in Federal funding per person, per year if they aren't included in the count. Imagine what that means to Montana and especially to some of our small, rural communities. If just 10 people aren't counted in a town, $20,000 per year is lost and $200,000 lost over the 10-year period between Census counts.
The funding Montana receives based on the Census is critical for many different things. It funds programs for children and seniors, like the National School Lunch Program, Special Education, Medicaid and Medicare Part B. It provides funding for highway planning and construction, as well as Federal Pell Grants for college students.
An undercount for Montana means our state will lose funding which will go to another state. It's not a matter of the funds not being spent. An undercount means that lost funding goes somewhere else. Perhaps it ends up in California. Maybe it will be Idaho or Oklahoma. We know Montanans are fiercely proud of our state and the 2020 Census is the perfect opportunity to let your competitive spirit and love for our state shine. And when Montana loses funding, the needs do not go away. It means businesses, nonprofits and government agencies will not only have greater difficulty planning for the future, but will also be called upon to fill those shortfalls. It means civil rights and voting rights laws may not be accurately enforced.
Representation is perhaps one of the most important issues at stake for Montana. The Census count may gain another seat for Montana in the United States House of Representatives. That means another vote for Montana representing Montanans on issues important to our state. Tell your friends, family and neighbors. Tell your customers, donors, volunteers, board, staff and any other constituency you have access to, then tell them again. The 2020 Census is an essential part of ensuring Montana's future. Be counted. And don't worry, we'll be reminding you again!
Mary K. Rutherford is the President & CEO of the Montana Community Foundation.
To learn more about Complete Count Committees and how foundations can support community-based activities, contact Philanthropy Northwest's Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Meredith Higashi.