As Facing South reported, community groups have launched efforts to ensure an accurate 2010 Census count in the Gulf Coast, a region still dealing with mass displacement from the 2005 hurricanes. In some Gulf states, an undercount by even several thousand people could lead to the loss of millions of dollars in aid in communities still trying to recover.
Earlier this month, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin called on former residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina to claim their New Orleans addresses on their 2010 Census forms. The mayor wants the Census Bureau to grant an exception for displaced New Orleans residents, currently living elsewhere, who want plan on moving back and rebuilding homes in the city, reports the Wall Street Journal. New Orleans city leaders say they are focusing on people who are really close to coming back, and underscore that securing federal funds will help the city provide services for the repopulation currently under way and the expanding population as rebuilding efforts continue to increase.
But Nagin's announcement has drawn criticism from U.S. Census Bureau officials and legal observers who say that the mayor's plan is illegal and goes against Census rules. According to federal law, the Census Bureau can only count U.S. residents at the address where they are living or staying on the official census day: April 1.
As the Times-Picayune reported:
But New Orleans city officials say that counting displaced residents will be important to the city's continuing recovery. "As you are aware, a low population count would mean the loss of millions of dollars needed to provide critical services, such as those for children, education and the elderly," Nagin's spokesman told the Times-Picayune.Slated to be mailed or delivered in March to about 134 million households, the form will go only to addresses confirmed by the Census Bureau through public records and on-the-ground surveys as places where someone lives or could live; a key feature is the presence of doors and windows.
Gulf Coast advocates and community groups have also been vocal in their support of a "right of return" for those populations internally displaced by the 2005 hurricanes, calling on lawmakers to allow displaced residents to be counted at their pre-Katrina residences if they plan to return to their Gulf Coast homes.
The information gathered in the 2010 Census will be used to determine the distribution of some $300 billion in federal funding to state and local communities. The numbers will also help determine the redistricting of local districts and voting precincts, as well as the reappointment of Congressional seats. Southern states have been undercounted in the past, resulting in the loss of millions in federal funding. In fact, some 60,000 people were undercounted in Louisiana in the 2000 Census, resulting in a loss of some $4 million to $6 million in federal funding over the past decade. Due to population shifts, political observers already predict that Louisiana will lose a seat in Congress after the 2010 Census.
Officials from the Census Bureau have said they will not be making an exception for displaced residents, but encouraged residents who want to be counted in New Orleans to relocate by April 1.