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Potential Citizenship Question Seen as Already Damaging 2020 Census

Washington state received more than $16.5 billion in federal funding that relied on census data in 2016. (Jcamilobernal/Adobe Stock)
Washington state received more than $16.5 billion in federal funding that relied on census data in 2016. (Jcamilobernal/Adobe Stock)
April 23, 2019

SEATTLE — Washington state is starting to ramp up its drive to get an accurate 2020 census count, but a proposed citizenship question in front of the U.S. Supreme Court today is tripping up those efforts. The Supreme Court is considering a Department of Justice request to include a question asking respondents if they are U.S. citizens.

Mathew Tomaskin is legislative liaison at the Yakama Nation in central Washington and is on the Washington State Complete Count Committee, which has begun outreach efforts across the state. He said the potential citizenship question already has made people mistrustful, even though he assures the information collected cannot be used against them.

"There is a confidentiality that cannot be broken, but we have to convince them of that,” Tomaskin said. “So it's already set a really negative tone amongst people of color."

Lower courts have blocked the citizenship question from being included. But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the Census Bureau, said the question is necessary to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act.

In 2016, Washington state received more than $16.5 billion from 55 federal agencies that rely on census numbers, according to a George Washington University analysis.

Despite the potential damper of a citizenship question, Tomaskin said early census outreach in central Washington is starting to energize members of the community to come together and ensure everyone is counted.

"Have your in-laws, your neighbors down the road, those individuals who are reclusive - have them all count,” he said. “And basically what you're starting to create - and I'm seeing this - is a sense of empowerment."

Funding from the federal government has remained flat from the 2010 census, and Tomaskin said states are scrambling to fill the gap in investment and leadership. Washington state lawmakers are considering directing $20 million to census efforts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA