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Friday
Jun012018

Trump is politicizing the Census!

Undermining the 2020 Census
 
The Trump administration is attempting to undermine the 2020 census in ways that would diminish counts of immigrants and LGBTQ individuals. States with large immigrant communities could lose congressional representation and receive less federal funding for health and welfare programs.

 
Every 10 years, the Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census of people living in the United States—both citizens and noncitizens. The population count then determines the number of representatives each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives, informs congressional, state and local re-districting and also determines federal funding in a number of programs.
 
What is happening? First, the administration is reinstating a citizenship question in the 2020 census that hasn’t been asked since 1950. The citizenship question is seemingly designed to discourage immigrants—particularly those who are undocumented or live in mixed-status families—from participating in the census.
 
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the 2020 census would use the same language (shown below) used in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which asks respondents to describe their citizenship status. Unlike the census, ACS is an annual survey that goes out to only 2.6 percent of the population.


Even though it is illegal to share a person’s census responses with law enforcement or immigration agencies, the chilling effect of the citizenship question could result in an inaccurate count of state populations with large immigrant communities. These states could lose congressional seats vital to protecting and advancing progressive policies on the national level (e.g. the Affordable Care Act). They could also lose substantial federal aid. The federal government uses census data to figure out how much federal funding to distribute to states, much of it for programs critical to the health and welfare of women and their families, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps).
 
As we’ve discussed before, cuts to Medicaid would endanger access to family planning services, maternity care, mental health and behavioral health services, and long-term care for chronic conditions. Medicaid covers more than 25 million women, with a disproportionate share of women of color and single mothers.
 
A coalition of 18 states, 10 cities, four counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have filed a lawsuit to try to remove the citizenship question. Meanwhile, the Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has tried to stifle investigation of the citizenship question. At a May hearing, Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) allowed Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice to refuse to respond to questions on the issue.
 
The administration is also refusing to include questions in the 2020 census on sexual orientation and gender identity, citing “no federal data need,” despite the apparent gap in LGBTQ-focused health research. The Trump administration’s interference in the 2020 census exacerbates the historical lack of data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity, making it more difficult for researchers to assess the health needs and barriers to care of the LGBTQ population. In turn, policymakers and health care providers won’t have the information necessary to address the unique health challenges of LGBTQ people.
 
Since the federal government conducts the census every 10 years, the Trump administration’s politicization of the census could have long-lasting consequences, perpetuating the cycle of health inequities and poor health outcomes. Undercounting means underrepresenting and underserving the most vulnerable.
 
What can you do? Here are some steps you can take with allies in your state:
  • Educate state and local decision-makers on how an inaccurate census count could threaten public health programs that provide crucial services to the populations they serve;
  • Educate local and state officials, community leaders and small business owners on the economic implications an inaccurate census count could bring to their communities;  
  • Support organizations such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in their efforts to move senators and representatives to call on Secretary Ross to testify on his reasoning behind adding a citizenship question; and
  • Prepare for upcoming public comment periods later this year to elevate how the citizenship question threatens the integrity of the U.S. Census and jeopardizes the economic vitality and civil rights of immigrants and communities of color.

Virginia lawmakers vote to expand Medicaid!
 
On Wednesday, the Republican-led Virginia Senate approved a bill to expand Medicaid, becoming the 33rd state, along with Washington, D.C., to do so. As many as 400,000 low-income residents will gain coverage. But the deal feels a bit “two steps forward, one step back.” In exchange for the Medicaid expansion, Virginia plans to impose premiums, as well as a requirement to take away coverage from people who earn more than the federal poverty level and who don’t meet arbitrary work requirements.  As we’ve discussed before, proposals to take away health care from people who don’t work a set number of hours per month are particularly harmful to women and LGBTQ people.
 
By November, a few more states may join the ranks of Medicaid expansion states. Utah residents will get to vote on a measure to expand Medicaid in the upcoming election. Advocates in Idaho collected enough signatures to add Medicaid expansion to the state’s ballot in November. Election officials are now reviewing signatures to make sure they meet Idaho’s requirements. In Nebraska, advocates are working to collect enough signatures by July 5 to include Medicaid expansion on the November ballot. Advocates are also collecting signatures for a ballot initiative in Montana to make the state’s Medicaid expansion (set to expire June 30, 2019) permanent.
 
Not only are states making moves to expand health care coverage, they are also taking the lead to stabilize the ACA marketplaces and to lower premiums. Along with their allies, New Jersey Citizen Action, our Newark-based regional coordinatorhas been advocating for state policies to offset Trump’s ACA sabotage.  New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) just signed two of those bills into law: a state individual mandate for health insurance and a bill providing funding for a reinsurance program—a separate fund to help insurers offset the expenses of high-cost individuals.

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