Montana Public Radio

Census Officials Dodge Citizenship Question During Missoula Event

Jul 8, 2019

U.S. Census officials speaking in Missoula Monday avoided commenting on whether a citizenship question will be added to the 2020 Census and what it could mean for Montana. It comes at a time when the Trump administration is assembling a legal team determined to ask the country about its citizenship status.

“The big question is, 'what about citizenship?' We know what you know," says federal Census Partnership Specialist Karen Murphy.

“What’s at stake is basically two things: power and money.”

Murphy says Montana could become the first state to regain a congressperson, which it lost in 1990.

Census data is also used to distribute over $675 billion in federal funding. That money goes to statewide programs like Medicaid, Pell Grants and highway funding.

That’s why head of Montana’s census planning Mary Craigle says it’s crucial to accurately count the population in 2020. 

“In 2000, we actually missed over 14,000 people. The estimate is that Montana left on the table somewhere between 21 million and 49 million dollars in federal funding that should’ve come because we had the people here," Craigle said. “That’s like missing Glendive and Havre. I mean, think about that, that we missed that many people in Montana.”

In 2010, Montana slightly overestimated the population. To ensure Montana has a good response in 2020, Craigle is at the center of creating as many as 80 Complete Count Committees.

These committees are intended to educate Montanans about the state and local benefits of completing the ensus and convince them to participate.

But Murphy says getting an accurate count isn’t so simple.

“It’s the federal government. And in rural Montana, it’s pretty difficult to sell folks on, you know, giving personal information to the federal government,” Murphy said.  

Murphy says people who distrust the government are among many hard to count communities such as children under 5, limited English speakers, and LGBTQ individuals.

Census day is April 1 and Census employees will start going door-to-door in May.