EDINBURG – More than 150 stakeholders gathered at Hidalgo County Commissioner's Court to launch a 2020 Census campaign to make sure everyone is counted so the Rio Grande Valley gets its fair share of federal and state funds.
The effort will be a challenge for county leaders. For many years Hidalgo County has been undercounted. Statistics show that 35 percent of people who live in Hidalgo County live in poverty.
“It is extremely important we maximize funds that come to our area from the federal government and state government,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said. “We must not fail this important mission.”
Traditionally Hidalgo County is undercounted because there are at least 20 percent of people that live here that are undocumented people. When someone from the outside wants to come to the Rio Grande Valley and count, those people never answer the door.
Cortez said wants local people to fill positions from the Census Bureau to go and count people in hopes everyone will answer the door to a familiar face.
Another problem are wrong addresses. In the past there was only one way to count people but this year will offer online and telephone options to being counted. Through a county initiative of ensuring everyone gets counted, officials counted 25,000 actual rooftops and new addresses.
Those new addresses equals 90,000 people that might not have been counted if it were not for the planning department. The county receives roughly $1,600 in federal dollars for every person.
Grassroots campaigning along with an official logo will be how the county will receive their fair share of the pie.
“Let's show them what we're made of,” Cortez said. “Let's show them we can work together and accomplish counting, the future to me is very bright but if we're going to make it even brighter we have to take the one-third of people in poverty, out of poverty.”
Cortez noted the government has a tremendous burden to care for the people in poverty, and he thinks they should. But there is not enough local funds to do so, federal funds are needed.
The most underserved and underfunded program in the county is Head Start.
The evidence is clear as Teresa Flores, executive director of Hidalgo County Head Start, said they have submitted several applications for funding. Funding has been flat, and Head Start last received funding in 2013 for 120 students.
“Despite the fact the number of children in the county that have gone unserved,” she said. “To me, when you have a three or a four-year-old child that does not get into the classrooms it is difficult for them to catch up later on.”
Head Start does partner with school districts and Flores said they have come to the rescue. All of the children are dual enrolled with local school districts which help with funds because Head Start does not receive additional funds.
There have been several mandates to continue to operate but most importantly Head Start is focused on breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.
“That doesn't happen if children do not get to school,” Flores said. “Our biggest challenge this year was parents not participating in activities because they were afraid to be picked up.”
Head Start serves everyone. For them to be able to meet the challenge to reach all the children, it is imperative that everyone is counted.
Currently Head Start serves 3,690 students but as Flores said, there are still 16,000 that need to be reached. Official numbers are down 4.5 percent on the number of children but that is inaccurate.
Head Start is lacking transportation and new buildings. Those needs will not be met by local funds, especially with immigrants.
“We encourage parents to fill out that paper and be counted,” Flores said. “We need the funds, we have the children and we need every help we can get.”
County officials will roll out their official campaigns to count people around the summer time, but for now those wanting to apply with the census can visit their website www.2020census.gov/jobs.