The impending presidential election has drawn much of the attention, but the arrival of 2020 brings the countdown to another major national event – one with significant long-term implications for the Ocean State.
In the weeks ahead, the U.S. Census Bureau will be working on its 10-year count population count for communities across the United States. For Rhode Island, the response is set to determine the size of the state’s congressional delegation after the 2022 election, as well as with the fate of nearly $4 billion in annual funding the state receives from the federal government based on its population.
It has been widely thought that the state is likely to lose one its seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on the Census results, but a recent report from Kimball Brace of Virginia-based Election Data Services suggests that outcome is far from certain.
While new projections still show Rhode Island losing one of its two seats, Brace’s reports states that the margin is “extremely close.” The report found the state gained 1,000 residents during the year that preceded July 1, 2019, for a total of nearly 1,060,000.
“For most of the decade our studies have projected that Rhode Island would lose their second seat by the end of the decade and the new numbers confirm that projection,” the report reads. “But their margin has gotten tighter with the new data. For the past several years we saw that Rhode Island would lose the second seat by more than 25,000 people. But this new data shows the state missing the seat by only 14,539 residents.”
Congress has long capped the number of House members at 435, with seats divided among states based on each decade’s Census figures. Brace’s report lists Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas as states projected to gain between one and three seats, with Rhode Island joining Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia among those expected to lose one seat.
In an effort to boost the state’s chances of keeping its second House seat and maximize its federal funding, Rhode Island has launched a “Compete Count” initiative.
On Monday, the Rhode Island Foundation announced the awarding of $300,000 in grant funding to various organizations – including the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education, Progreso Latino and Meals on Wheels – to boost Census outreach and participation among historically undercounted segments of the community. Applications for a second round of the funding are being accepted through Jan. 31, and more information can be found at rifoundation.org/grant/rhode-island-census-2020-outreach-grants.
Another step has recently been taken to boost the local Census effort, albeit one not directly tied to the “Complete Count” push. The Census Bureau last week announced it is raising pay for part-time workers from $22.50 to $25 an hour in an effort to lure applicants, with the increase effective for workers in all five of the Ocean State’s counties.
We wholly support the efforts to ensure all Rhode Islanders are counted in the coming Census, and urge residents to actively take part in the process.
The importance of retaining our second seat goes well beyond political jockeying. Members of our congressional delegation have influence on Capitol Hill that belies our state’s small size, and their standing pays significant dividends in terms directing valuable resources and attention to address our needs here at home.
Even more importantly, as our state grows increasingly diverse, it is vital that we recognize and welcome all segments of our communities. A full Census count is perhaps the most essential step in ensuring all Rhode Islanders are heard and have a seat at our shared table.