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The Cost of Not Being Counted: Why The Census Matters

The Cost of Not Being Counted: Why The Census Matters

Achieving a fair and accurate census count is incredibly important when we look at the individuals who benefit from and participate in programs that support nutrition, education, housing, and healthcare; programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicaid. These are programs that benefit families of color and individuals at risk. These are programs that provide necessary and basic nutritional and health care needs to families struggling to make ends meet.

Recently, as a result of COVID-19, residents of Dallas County were asked by Dallas officials to refrain from buying groceries the first three days of the month to allow families on federal food assistance programs, like WIC, to buy food for their families. During these initial dates, families enrolled in WIC are able to buy groceries from a specific list of approved foods like baby formula, canned foods, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. Furthermore, healthcare programs that serve these same families, programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and hospital financial assistance programs utilize data gathered from the census to provide health coverage for low income individuals. These healthcare programs allow countless participants to access healthcare services, preventative care, immunizations, and other related services.

Having grown up in a household that lived paycheck to paycheck, I understand the importance of these programs firsthand. Throughout my childhood, we relied heavily on WIC, Medicaid, and hospital financial assistance programs to meet our nutritional and healthcare needs. I vividly remember my mom always buying canned foods and frozen items, along with the essential products, on our WIC grocery shopping excursions because they could be saved for times when money was tight. In our home, we experienced times when we barely had enough to feed us all but it was programs like WIC that allowed my parents to focus on paying our rent or buying our school supplies and school uniforms. 

Similarly, it was healthcare programs like Medicaid that allowed my two younger sisters to get their yearly doctor and dentist appointments. Meanwhile, my mother and I were allowed access to healthcare services through Parkland’s financial assistance program. It was access to said programs that allowed my sisters and I to grow up healthy, for my mom to receive the lifesaving treatment she needed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and allowed my sister to receive the necessary emergency attention when she developed meningitis. It was because we had access to these programs that we were not overwhelmed with hospital or medical bills, which could have kept us from receiving these treatments or forced us to choose between paying our bills or rent. At times, we struggled to make ends meet and it wasn’t for my parents lack of trying. The world in which we lived constantly stacked obstacles against them. Despite their best efforts, we needed access to assistance programs to make it through the difficult times we encountered.

My family’s experience is far from unique. Stories such as ours are echoed throughout the city of Dallas, Dallas County, the state of Texas, and throughout the nation. According to Texas Health and Human Services, there are approximately 3,835,026 individuals enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP Programs as of January 2020 for the state of Texas. For Medicaid alone, in January 2019, there were approximately 393,026 individuals enrolled in the program. 

In regards to nutritional programs, Texas Health and Human Services reported 141,910 individuals enrolled in the SNAP program. Similarly, according to the United States Food and Nutrition Services, a reported 678,863 individuals in Texas are enrolled in the WIC program as of January 2020. These are families that are receiving lifesaving access to food and healthcare, which are all made possible by the allocation of funds based on the census count. Whether or not individuals are accurately counted can determine current and future participants’ access to SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, WIC, and other federally funded programs. For many families, access to these programs makes all the difference.

Texas Women’s Foundation supports amplifying the voices of women. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not to the organization.

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