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Letter from the President: May 2018

For a Foundation with as many interests as ours—science, early childhood education, human rights, climate and clean energy—there are few times when a single event reaches across to touch almost all of our issue areas. But in 2020, that rare moment will come in the form of the next U.S. Census.

The Census informs how roughly $700 billion per year will be distributed to local, state, and tribal governments. It determines a state’s number of congressional seats in the House of Representatives. It leads to decisions about schools, roads, and social services. It even leads to businesses planning where and how to run their organizations. And that’s just to name a few of the ways the Census is used. Most of all, it has this impact for a full 10 years before the next Census is conducted.

So, to say the Census is important to all we care about is an understatement. And at the same time, the 2020 Census is vulnerable, threatened by untested technologies and lower federal funding in the years leading up to the decennial Census, which affects the way a fair and accurate count is collected.

Most concerning, however, is the proposed addition of one question on the next Census: Are you a U.S. citizen? In the anti-immigrant sentiment of today’s political climate, with rhetoric rising and raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rampant, the addition of a question about citizenship is likely to lead many people to return incomplete forms or avoid them altogether. And this will mean less money for some of the communities most in need.

At the Heising-Simons Foundation, we’re fortunate enough to be able to provide support quickly when faced with time-sensitive and extraordinary opportunities or concerns such as this one. And so, our Board has approved funding two key ways to try and improve the 2020 Census.

On the local level, the Foundation supported a pilot project in San Jose, using a new text-messaging program to ensure that people living in unconventional housing, such as converted garages, receive the Census questionnaire in 2020 and can be counted. I invite you to watch a short local television news report on that effort, here.

Nationally, the Foundation has supported the Democracy Funders Collaborative Census Subgroup, a national donor collaborative that includes participation from more than a dozen other foundations and includes work toward policy improvements, increased funding and support, and public outreach and education.

These collective efforts have already proved successful.  For example, at the national level, groups’ work helped lead to Congress adding $1 billion to the census budget, reversing the funding shortfall – and the prospect of doing the same in next year’s budget is looking good. At the state level, California is also committing new funds to help with implementation of the Census.

We intend to remain focused on this issue and we invite our grantees and partners to keep an eye on the efforts of the field, as we get closer to 2020, and as we all work to ensure all people are counted and not left behind.