BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana, a poor state that relies on billions of dollars in federal aid, is joining most other states in setting up a panel the Census Bureau recommends will help ensure residents are counted in the 2020 U.S. Census.
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday that he has created a “complete count committee” to raise awareness of next year’s census and encourage people to respond to the questionnaires.
Census data determines how many members of Congress a state has and is used to divvy up significant sums of federal dollars that flow to states. While Louisiana isn’t expected to lose a member of its congressional delegation in the updated count of residents, the numbers could be critical to the state’s continued receipt of billions in federal money spent on health care, education, social services, and other programs.
“It is vital that every Louisianan participate in the census,” the Democratic governor said at his end-of-year news conference. “We need to make sure that we’re in the best possible shape to receive our share of federal resources as they are made available by the federal government.”
Louisiana had been one of five states identified earlier this year as not setting up the public awareness committee, despite the Census Bureau’s urging to create them.
Rather than issue the executive order during a reelection campaign when it could become a political football, Edwards waited until he won a second term before creating the 23-person census committee. He said Louisiana will have a formal census kickoff next year.
Among the members of Louisiana’s committee are Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, three Democratic state lawmakers, Louisiana’s higher education commissioner, two business CEOs, the Lafourche Parish sheriff, the president of the Louisiana NAACP, representatives of several nonprofit organizations, the head of the National Baptist Convention of America International and the mayors of Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lake Charles, Ville Platte, Woodworth, and Ruston.
The once-a-decade count of the U.S. population starts in January in Alaska. The rest of the nation will take part, starting in the spring. Census officials have urged the “complete count committees” as effective ways to help generate awareness of the need to participate in the people-counting.
But while other states are setting aside dollars to reach out to people and ask them to respond to the census, Louisiana wasn’t immediately earmarking a specific amount of money to its effort. Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the work will be financed out of the governor’s office, and she noted some nongovernmental organizations are putting their own dollars toward census outreach.
“This is important work that this committee will undertake, and I am grateful to everyone who has made the commitment to participate. The impact of the census count will help shape the future of our state for the next decade and that is why we must do everything within our power to make certain all communities are represented and no one is left out of the process,” said Edwards.