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Opinion: Why we need to reach hard-to-count Coloradans. There’s a lot at stake.

“Census undercount” is a daunting phrase arriving in most households with a thud, like “infrastructure decline” or “education reform.”

It definitely sounds like a problem, somebody else should certainly be doing something about it, now what’s going on with Harry and Meghan? 

Diana McFail

So we’re going to get specific right away, before we lose you. 

Let’s say a 63-year-old Coloradan in a rural area with a poor Internet connection gets the 2020 Census letter in mid-March. Misinformation on Facebook posts has warned them that responding could be dangerous. The Wi-Fi link is bad and the computer is old, and the online form is just too much. So there’s no response. One less person counted.

Multiply that enough times, and what happens to Colorado? Medicaid, the largest part of the state budget, loses money from its federally calculated match formula and provides fewer services to those who need it most. 

A home health care business that helps Coloradans age with dignity chooses not to locate in your county, because it mistakenly thinks there’s not enough older adults in need. Schools cancel a bond issue because they think there aren’t enough voters who care.

Relatives with substance abuse issues don’t get help, because their local clinic saw funding cuts. And our roads remain congested and in disrepair, losing out in population-based transportation funds.  

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Oh yes, and Colorado loses its chance to gain an eighth voice in the U.S. House of Representatives because Florida did a better job helping its people return the Census.

We’re not going to sit back and watch that happen. 

Colorado is gaining a well-deserved reputation for innovation and leadership in age-friendly initiatives, home health alternatives for older residents, disability rights, health access policies, transportation (yes, infrastructure), child welfare reform, wage supports and much, much more.

It would be a great failure for all of us if we didn’t find ways to help everyone get counted and make sure Colorado gets credit for its rapid population growth and its big ideas for the future. 

The numbers obtained through the 2020 Census will help this great state meet the needs of vital demographic groups for the next 10 years. 

We at NextFifty Initiative hope to collaborate with the best minds in Colorado to get the 2020 Census count right and ensure older adults, and especially those in hard-to-count communities including refugee, homeless, rural, and non-English speaking communities, are accurately counted.

The state government stepped up in 2019 to offer a pool of resources for better-count programs — we want to boost that and offer more. 

NextFifty Initiative has $750,000 available for Census-specific grants to nonprofits and government entities with projects designed to conduct education and outreach, and to improve the participation of older adults in the Colorado Census. Applications opened Jan. 27, and will run through March 20, or when this fund is expended.

The grants are for up to $25,000 each, and time is of the essence — the “official” and traditional Census launch is April 1, and Coloradans will see Census notices in their mailboxes starting in mid-March.

NextFifty Initiative’s focus with this special effort is on hard-to-count older populations, such as those in rural communities, non-English speakers, refugees, or those experiencing homelessness.

A mixture of fatigue, misinformation, fear, apathy, isolation or lack of access could suppress the accurate counting of people who might benefit most from future services. 

The Colorado Health Institute estimated last year that a 2020 undercount could cost Colorado $16 million in annual Medicaid funding and $5 million more in losses for safety net clinics. They noted that with the Census being the numbers Bible for 10 years, losses could hit $245 million before the next chance in 2030 to try again. 

The Census will also impact federal funding for state and county programs including housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy. However you might feel about government safety nets, the Census will have impact on many more far-reaching programs in your community. 

We’re up against states that are once again spending more money than we are. Let’s work together to break through barriers, and let all Coloradans know that every single one of us matters to each other.


Diana McFail is president and CEO of NextFifty Initiative.


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