By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 2010; B07
The 2010 Census will determine how more than $500 billion in federal funds is divvied up each year, according to a new study that adds urgency to cash-strapped jurisdictions pushing residents to mail in their census questionnaires later this month.
The calculation by Andrew D. Reamer, a policy analyst with the Brookings Institution, is significantly higher than the $447 billion the federal government distributed in 2008 based on census counts. That's in part because Reamer included the impact of federal stimulus funds that are being sent out in response to the recession.
"Counting more people means more money," said Reamer, who figured that one-tenth of a percentage-point increase in the population count can bring an increase in federal funds ranging from 0.06 percent to 0.12 percent. "That's real money."
The Census Bureau has estimated that "more than $400 billion" in federal funds is at stake every year, and mailing in the census form is one small way residents can bring more money to their communities for such things as schools, roads, housing and parks.
But every jurisdiction does not get the same amount of federal funds per person. That's because of the nature of the programs that use census statistics in allocating money.
Reamer identified 215 federal programs that rely on census data to formulate how much money they send to states, cities and counties. But one program alone, Medicaid, which provides health care to the poor, accounts for 58 percent of the money. The next three largest sources of funds -- highway construction, housing vouchers and education grants -- make up 14 percent.
According to Reamer's study, the District got $2.7 billion in federal funds in 2008, which worked out to be $4,656 for each resident. That is much more than Vermont, which got $2,873 a resident, a higher rate than any other state, and Nevada, which got the least at $742 a resident. Maryland got $1,136 for each resident, and Virginia got $861.
In contrast to the District, Fairfax County got $379 million that year, or $373 a resident. Montgomery County got $725 million, or $1,357 a resident. The Washington area as a whole got an average of $980 a person, ranking 73rd among the country's 100 largest metropolitan regions.
One reason for the discrepancy is that wealthier counties tend to be more generous in their Medicaid formulas, and those that have sizable numbers of low-income residents get considerably more federal Medicaid assistance, Reamer said. For example, the District sets a high income level for Medicaid eligibility, making more of its residents eligible for the program, and the federal government pays 70 percent of the cost.
States, counties and cities across the country have been urging residents to mail in the census questionnaires, which are scheduled to be delivered to more than 120 million households next week. In Rockville, the Executive Office Building is draped with a large banner reading "Everyone Counts in Montgomery County."
On Tuesday, the Census Bureau will launch a campaign stressing the importance of counting infants and young children on the forms. As part of Children Count Too, Nickelodeon will broadcast a promotional spot featuring the children's character Dora the Explorer. Census officials say children are undercounted because people in hard-to-count groups, including immigrants and minorities, tend to have more children in their families and because many people do not list babies on the questionnaire.