Making Sure You Count

Aug 17, 2020

Responding to the 2020 Census Helps NC’s Health, Environment, and Economy

by Joel Porter

Among our ever changing priorities as we continue to navigate the pandemic, responding to the 2020 Census probably does not top most people’s lists. The last census (2010), however, directed $23.7 Billion (with a B!) of Federal funding to North Carolina in 2016 alone.

I’m sure you are wondering why we at Clean Air Carolina care about this. Well, many of the programs that benefit from that funding help drive economic growth and, in many cases, help our environment and improve public health (which is core to our mission). Here’s a small sample of the valuable programs that North Carolina has benefited from:

Program name Federal Agency     Amount disbursed to NC (FY ‘16)
Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid) HHS $8,528,953,000
Highway Planning and Construction DOT $1,043,576,154
Federal Transit Formula Grants DOT $90,229,000
Rural Electrification Loans and Loan Guarantees     USDA $277,600,000
Low Income Home Energy Assistance HHS $86,724,574
Federal Transit – Capital Investment Grants DOT $176,691,614
Community Facilities Loans/Grants USDA $169,295,665


These programs provide so much value to our state. They provide access to healthcare to low-income individuals (Medicaid) who suffer from respiratory illnesses brought on by chronic exposure to pollution. They improve our transportation infrastructure (the Federal Highway Planning and Construction program) and increase access to cleaner forms of transit (Federal Transit-Capital Investment Grants). They give our electric co-operatives access to badly needed capital to help electrify rural North Carolina, allow access to demand-side management or energy efficiency technologies, maintain our conservation programs, and allow on-grid and off-grid renewable energy systems (Rural Electrification Loans and Loan Guarantees). The census also informs the allocation of vital resources to low-income communities struggling to afford lifesaving utility services (Low Income Home Energy Assistance).

North Carolina has grown exponentially these past few years. We need to make sure that our piece of the Federal pie grows as well. 

The “self-response” phase of the census was initially set to conclude at the end of July, but due to the inability of census takers to conduct in-person interviews, the U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted their schedule. Households now have until September 30, 2020 to self-respond. That’s still less than seven weeks away.

So far, the numbers reported during the self-response phase have not been promising. According to the North Carolina 2020 Census Tracker, only 74 counties out of 100 have a response rate of 50% or higher. To put it mildly, that is not ideal. 

NC Policy Watch notes that Census Bureau-trained enumerators have begun collecting data from door-to-door interviews as part of their “non-response follow-up” (NRFU) plan. In-person census takers will wear masks and follow local public health guidelines when they visit homes, but the safest way to fill out the 2020 Census is to self-respond online, by phone, or by mail. Self-responses will continue to be collected throughout the entire data collection process — with a final deadline for data collection of September 30.

With so many of North Carolina’s priorities and potential on the line, we hope you’ll take a minute to fill out your Census data today: