Highway, Head Start, Section 8 funding in Connecticut tied to census

As they stress the importance of a complete count, 2020 Census advocates — like Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz — often cite the many programs for which the census determines funding: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Pell grants, highway planning, Section 8 housing vouchers, Title I grants ... the list goes on and on.

But how does the funding for these programs make its way to agencies serving people in southeastern Connecticut, and what impact would they see from an undercount?

For each program, the relevant state or federal agency will determine funding based on the population. U.S. Census Bureau assistant regional manager Lisa Moore said, for example, census data will help inform the U.S. Department of Education on how to allocate money to each state.

She said the bureau will start providing more specific population statistics to states on March 31, 2021, and agencies can use that data for specific counties, cities and towns.

All federally funded programs now use the 2010 census as a benchmark — a starting point — when creating their algorithms and formulas, Moore said.

According to a report the GW Institute of Public Policy released last January, Connecticut received $10.7 billion through 55 federal programs guided by 2010 census data in fiscal year 2016.

The top 10 were Medicaid, $4.6 billion; Federal Direct Student Loans, $1.1 billion; SNAP, $685.5 million; Medicare Part B, $908.9 million; Highway Planning and Construction, $514.9 million; Pell grants, $243 million; Section 8 housing vouchers, $403 million; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, $266.8 million; Very Low to Moderate Income Housing Loans, $108 million, and Title I grants to school districts, $121 million.

"A complete and accurate 2020 Census is critical to the state's (health care) future," the Connecticut Hospital Association said in a statement to The Day. "Data derived from the 2020 Census will impact health insurance programs like Medicare and HUSKY, help shape how hospitals and health systems invest in building healthier communities, and provide important data needed to protect the public health." Husky Health is the state's public health insurance program for low-income children, parents, relative caregivers, elders, individuals with disabilities, adults without dependent children, and pregnant women.

Passing along information from other state Department of Transportation staff, DOT spokesperson Kevin Nursick said in an email that census data is used to calculate the allocation of Surface Transportation Block Grant funds between the various Councils of Governments in Connecticut. DOT works with the councils to identify and prioritize projects for those funds, which can be used for highway, bridge and tunnel projects.

As for Section 8 housing, Norwich Housing Authority Executive Director Jeffrey Arn said his agency has 514 vouchers for families of different sizes and gets about 20% to 30% of its overall budget from the federal government. The rest comes through residents' rent.

"If we're undercounted and our funding is reduced, we obviously would have to look to alternative funding or cost-saving measures," Arn said. "We're restricted in the amounts of rent we can charge, so we really wouldn't be able to raise rents."

Section 8 funding comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which also drives funding for Community Development Block Grants, as well as Public and Indian Housing.

'It trickles down'

Getting an accurate census count is particularly crucial for Thames Valley Council for Community Action because it's involved in so many programs: Section 8, Low Income Home Energy Assistance or LIHEAP, Head Start, and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC.

Kerry Callaghan, who works in quality assurance for TVCCA, said the agency has received 7,000 LIHEAP applications so far this season and paid out $3.6 million to local energy vendors.

"So, not only are we providing service to our clients, but we're also helping to support the companies locally who are providing the energy sources," she said.

Callaghan said one testimonial she has from a client is, "I have two kids with noncurable lung disease, and I'm on disability, so without your program, we'd have no heat."

TVCCA supports 413 children through Head Start, which provides early childhood education and health services to low-income families. Callaghan said Community Development Block Grants also have supported homelessness prevention in Norwich and Meals on Wheels in New London, along with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

TVCCA has its own Census Complete Count Committee. Callaghan said the agency still is in the early phase of planning but will try to incorporate census outreach into events that already are happening, as this will make families more likely to participate.

The Section 8 vouchers and fuel assistance that Groton Human Services receives is billed through TVCCA, so Human Services Director Marge Fondulas described the census as having an indirect impact. "It trickles down and impacts the people that we're assisting through the department," she said, adding, "We're at the end of the line here."

Fondulas said Groton Human Services offers space for TVCCA to run a WIC program, so it would feel the impact if WIC funding were cut.

Dina Sears-Graves, vice president of community impact for United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, agreed with Fondulas about the census having a "trickle-down effect." While United Way itself does not get federal funding, Sears-Graves noted that the local organization funds 47 programs that are impacted by census-contingent federal funding. And if the programs get less funding, that impacts how United Way spends its money.

She also noted that if an undercount leads to fewer federal dollars, organizations are competing more for private dollars, which is already a small pool.

Moore, of the Census Bureau, said Connecticut has 2,819 census partners: 842 in nonprofits, 757 in education, 544 in government, 417 in business and 259 in faith-based organizations.

e.moser@theday.com

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