PHP Joins Philanthropic Peers in Opposing Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

At PHP, we believe a citizenship question would discourage census participation by foreign-born residents, with serious consequences for allocation of federal resources and political representation of our communities.

July 2018

At Philadelphia Health Partnership, we envision a city in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve optimal health and wellbeing. That vision is anchored in our belief that factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, and socio-economic status should not influence access to quality care and services and to the economic opportunities and social supports that people need to thrive. We are committed to reducing health disparities for immigrants and refugees living in Philadelphia County. We know that these children, women, and families, including non-citizens, face the steepest barriers to access to and utilization of health care and supportive services. We are committed to raising our voice and visibility on policy issues relevant to immigrant and refugee health equity.

In March, PHP joined 118 peer funders in a sign-on letter to the Department of Commerce opposing the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire. The letter highlighted concerns that adding such a question would discourage census participation by foreign-born residents (who numbered 232,000 in Philadelphia County according to 2016 American Community Survey data). On June 8, the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau published a Federal Register notice requesting comments about the 2020 Census. In response, PHP submitted an official comment to the Federal Register urging the Commerce Department to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 census and recommit itself to conducting a fair and accurate count. On August 2, PHP joined over 300 grantmaking organizations in submitting another letter to the Commerce Department opposing the citizenship question.

The United States government is constitutionally obligated to produce a decennial census, which is used to inform the allocation of over $700 billion in federal funds annually to state and local governments for Medicaid and other health programs, education, child care, housing, transportation, and many other services and supports critical to health and well-being. Census findings are also used to determine the re-distribution of political representation based on changes in population. For practitioners and resource brokers, the Census provides critical data that informs policy- and program- relevant research and decision-making. For instance, when launching our strategic initiative on immigrants and refugees at PHP, we analyzed Census data to understand demographic factors such as age, race, ethnicity, and family composition among other characteristics. When a group or population is undercounted in the Census, our ability to support the development and delivery of effective care and services is undermined.

Immigrants have been undercounted in past Censuses. Adding a citizenship question on the 2020 Census at a time when immigrants are experiencing increased fear of sharing information with government could further reduce participation. As noted by the Georgetown Center for Poverty and Inequality, “the Census Bureau’s own research in 2017 found unprecedented concerns among immigrants and those living with immigrants about responding to census takers’ questions, due to fear that the information might be shared with other government agencies and used against them or their loved ones.” Reluctance to provide information about citizenship status has likely become even more pronounced in recent months due to the Office of Management and Budget’s consideration of changes to public charge policies that determine how use of public benefits, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, could affect individuals’ immigration status.

Of all age groups, children under the age of five are most likely to be undercounted, with those living in immigrant and low-income families and children of color the most likely to be missed. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book notes that the 2010 Census reflected an undercount of nearly one million young children. The result was to deprive families and communities “of their fair share of federal dollars for Head Start, school lunches, public health insurance, housing, child care, and myriad other programs and services that help young children in low-income families get a healthy start in life.” We fear that the addition of the citizenship question will exacerbate this trend, with serious consequences for children of all ages, including the 75,808 children in Philadelphia County that have one or more foreign-born parent (2016 American Community Survey).

Our opposition to the addition of a citizenship question is informed by the views of bipartisan leaders, including the Census Scientific Advisory Committee, two former Commerce Department Secretaries, six former Census Bureau directors (appointed by different political parties), and mayors. Experts and policymakers cite alarm about the lack of rigorous testing and assessment of the impact of the citizenship questions on non-response rates and data accuracy. Underinvestment in testing is particularly worrisome given that the 2020 Census will be the first to depend significantly on online survey responses. We are eager for the Census Bureau to publish its communications plan at the earliest date possible and to include detailed information about how its outreach and engagement strategies will support participation by foreign-born residents and other historically undercounted communities.

We are committed to working with local and national partners to make sure everyone is counted in the 2020 Census, including the immigrant and refugee- serving organizations that PHP currently supports which include:

  • Medical-legal partnerships that embed attorneys in medical settings that serve large numbers of immigrant and refugee patients in order to address health-harming legal needs. Current grantees: Community Legal Services, Justice at Work, and Philadelphia Legal Assistance.
  • Community-based and refugee resettlement organizations that provide health literacy, navigation, and case management support in tandem with programming that addresses social determinants of health. Current grantees: Nationalities Service Center, Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, and African Cultural Association of North America.
  • Coalitions focused on public education, community engagement, and outreach related to immigrant and refugee health equity, including efforts to expand health insurance coverage for undocumented and uninsured children. Current grantee: Public Citizens for Children and Youth – Dream Care Campaign.

An undercount of one population threatens our entire community. In addition to the organizations above, PHP supports a broad range of organizations engaged in health and human services delivery. An inaccurate Census count will make it harder for our grantees to do their work, not only reducing their access to resources but also diminishing the political representation of the communities they engage and serve. Mobilizing and amplifying community voice and leadership to advance health equity is a core aspect of PHP work, and we are proud to join our grantees, community leaders, philanthropic colleagues, and diverse stakeholders to continue to raise our collective voices in support of a fair and accurate 2020 Census.

Census Resources

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NALEO Educational Fund, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC are working collaboratively to encourage nonprofits and the public to submit comments about the citizenship question to the Commerce Department. The Commerce Department is accepting public comments until Aug. 7.  The groups have created a portal (http://censuscounts.org) to make it easier to submit comments.

Keystone Counts is a nonpartisan coalition of advocacy groups, service providers, and community organizations in Pennsylvania working together to build an education and outreach effort for a fair and accurate 2020 Census.

Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) is a membership network for the philanthropic community. GCIR offers a resource page with links to infographics, analyses, and other information relevant to their Census 2020 initiative.

Funders’ Committee For Civic Participation’s Funders Census Initiative works to build strong support within philanthropy for ensuring a fair and accurate decennial census count in 2020.