Friday, April 17, 2020

Want to Improve Your Health? Fill Out the Census!

Emily Dewar, MD
Emily Dewar, MD
Pediatric Resident at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School 
Member, Texas Medical Association

Lauren Gambill, MD
Austin Pediatrician
Member, Texas Medical Association

There are many things that we should do to help protect our health: get a flu shot, exercise regularly, and eat fruits and vegetables. But this spring, there’s something else you can do. In fact, it may be the easiest, fastest, and most important task you complete this year to benefit the health and well-being of yourself and your fellow Texans: Fill out your census form.

Lauren Gambill, MD
Yes, you read that right. In addition to determining political representation and community infrastructure, the census helps determine funding for a wide array of critical health and human service programs. A few of the programs that rely on census data include: Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Title I, IDEA Special Education, Head Start, foster care, school lunches, and child care programs. Without accurate counts, we lose resources and funding, which directly harms the health and well-being of people in our communities.

Nationally, we are at risk for an undercount, as it is the first time the census is online. This is especially important because we can complete the form while social distancing because of COVID-19. While the U.S. Census Bureau hopes that the new online option will lead to more accurate counts, a new system opens itself up to potential glitches. Another reason we are at risk for an undercount is fear; while the information gathered is not linked to individuals, some may still not feel safe divulging personal information on a government questionnaire.

Texas is home to many people who are historically undercounted and are therefore considered “hard-to-count,” such as young children, people without a permanent address, immigrants, those who live in rural areas, and people of color. Twenty-five percent of Texans live in “hard-to-count” areas. Those vast areas have had low census response rates in the past.

There is often confusion as to who counts on the census. The short answer is that everyone counts, regardless of citizenship or age. This includes newborn babies still in the hospital, kids in foster care, undocumented immigrants, individuals experiencing homelessness, kids who live with non-related adults – everyone!

What’s on the line?

For every one percent of Texans who are not counted, Texas could lose $300 million in federal funding each year, for the next 10 years. This means less access to health care, food, and education, particularly in “hard-to-count” areas. Texans often wait months to see a physician or live in areas where hospitals and clinics are hours away; an undercount will only make these problems worse.

What can we do?

Take the census! Census Day was originally scheduled for April 1, 2020, but now operations are pushed back to protect the public and Census bureau employees from COVID-19. Census day is a mark in time where everyone is to report where they live or lived, on that particular day. It is not the deadline to complete the census. People began filling out the census online in March and can do so into August. The federal government encourages answering the census online above all other options (options to respond by phone or mail are also available). More than 70 million households have completed the Census as of April 13, which makes up more than 48% of American households.

So in-between all the other things you do to stay healthy, make sure you and everyone you know fills out the census. By doing so you’re not only being of service to you and your own health, but to the health of your fellow Texans.

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