SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers have ramped up state spending aimed at encouraging participation in the 2020 Census across remote rural landscapes where gaps in internet access pose a challenge to the federal population count.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Monday that devotes an additional $8 million to promote census participation.
In mid-March, households nationwide will begin receiving mail from the U.S. Census Bureau with instructions for responding online, by phone or mail.
The state’s effort includes public access to internet kiosks to fill out census forms. Previous state appropriations of $3.5 million have gone toward a range of public service announcements and canvassing by community groups.
With the legislation, New Mexico moves up on the list of states, including California and New York, that are spending substantially to increase census participation. At the same time, other states, including Texas, have declined to create so-called “complete count committees” to bolster participation.
Lujan Grisham said her administration wants to ensure that the state receives its rightful share of funding for social and infrastructure programs that are underwritten by the federal government, highlighting Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
More than 40% of the state population relies on Medicaid insurance for health care, a program that channels roughly $5 billion each year toward New Mexico. The current annual state general fund budget is $7 billion.
“This is our money, it’s our tax dollars that go to the federal government, and they’re intended to be returned to the states based on these counts,” Lujan Grisham said.
Administration and Public Finance Secretary Olivia Padilla-Jackson said that increasing the count by as few as 3,000 people will make the $8 million expenditure worthwhile, based on population-based federal spending over the coming decade.
About 41% of state residents live in hard-to-count areas — the largest proportion of any state in the nation, an Associated Press analysis of government data found.
Households that primarily speak Native American languages pose special challenges for census takers, demographic experts say. About 10% of New Mexico residents are Native American.
A 1% undercount in the state of roughly 2.1 million residents could cost the state more than $700 million during 10 years, Lujan Grisham said.
Republic Sen. William Burt of Alamogordo highlighted concerns that the census could overlook “man camps” of oilfield workers, who have flocked to southeastern New Mexico’s booming energy economy and sometimes live in improvised clusters of prefabricated or mobile homes.
That population influx in a traditionally Republican stronghold could hold implications for the redrawing of political districts in 2021 based on the census count. The 3rd Congressional District in southern New Mexico was flipped to Democratic control in 2018 with the election of U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.
Census experts. including state demographer Robert Rhatigan, said oil workers can be counted toward New Mexico’s population if they live and sleep in the state most of the time as of April 1, 2020.
Lujan Grisham said bipartisan participation in the state’s complete county committee that promotes census participation ensures an evenhanded approach.