With the census approaching, state and county officials are focused on a complete count

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The head of the county's Complete Count Committee estimates that a U.S. Census undercount in 2010 cost the county $94.3 million in federal funding. He said the county could lose $37.7 million if there is a 1% undercount this year.

San Juan County had an estimated 2.5% undercount on the U.S. Census and New Mexico had a 1.94% undercount in 2010, according to numbers provided by Devin Neeley, who heads the San Juan County Complete Count Committee.

Officials say New Mexico among the hardest to count states in the country and, for each person who is not counted, the state loses an estimated $3,000 in federal funding.

Between March 12 and March 20, residents will receive an invitation in the mail to respond online to the 2020 Census. The census bureau will also send several reminders. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, authorizing $8 million of state funds for use on census outreach efforts.

Federal funding is based on census count

There are 55 federal programs that use census data when distributing funds. These programs include Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Highway Planning and Construction, Head Start, Adoption Assistance, Crime Victim Assistance and Native American Employment and Training.

The county hopes to reduce that undercount this year, despite the compounding factors of the new online census and the Four Corners’ rural nature. The state provided San Juan County with more than $168,000 to promote the census.

The $168,000 was part of a $3.5 million allocation authorized for counties throughout the state to increase the number of people who fill out the census.

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The county is using the funds to pay a marketing firm to assist in the effort, according to Neeley.

On Feb. 10, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law that will provide an additional $8 million to census outreach efforts statewide.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs a bill, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, authorizing $8 million for census outreach.

“We all have to pull together on the Census,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after signing the bill. “The stakes are enormous. This funding will help ensure New Mexico receives every federal dollar to which we are entitled — for health care, for food assistance, for roads in communities all across the state and so much more.”

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This is the first year the U.S. Census will be conducted online, which officials anticipate will create challenges because only 42% of San Juan County residents have broadband access. Neeley said the county is working on arranging events at local libraries where people can fill out the census.

While the census is an important tool for federal funding, it is also used when determining district boundaries for elected offices and how many representatives states have in the U.S. House of Representatives.

And the census can be an important economic development tool. Neeley said national chain businesses will evaluate census data when deciding if they will locate in a community.

"It is a big deal not only for funding for programs but for continued economic development in this area," he said.

The census counts people in various tracts. There are 40 tracts in San Juan County, including 7 tracts on Navajo Nation land. The San Juan County Complete Count Committee is focused only on the tracts off of Navajo Nation land because the tribe has its own committee. Of the 33 census tracts outside of Navajo Nation, Neeley said 16 of them are considered hard to count.

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The response rate in these hard-to-count tracts was around 73% during the 2010 census, Neeley said.

He said most of Farmington’s incorporated areas likely have an accurate count, but the rural areas and low-income areas are harder to count. Neeley said there are parts of both incorporated Bloomfield and Aztec that are harder to count.

"What our goal is is to reach all of those people and inform them about how important the census is this year to our area," Neeley said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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