Census Map Reveals Low Response Rate among Valley Residents

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LA VILLA – In a new map released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Rio Grande Valley is identified as an area that typically sees a low response rate for the census.

A recent request from the Department of Justice may threaten that already low rate even more. The DOJ wants to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. It’s a question that wasn’t on the 2010 census.

The DOJ says their request relates to voting rights. Some Valley city managers CHANNEL 5 NEWS spoke to say a question about citizenship is “dicey” because it could threaten who and how many respond, which could lead to less federal dollars flowing through the Valley.

According to their website, data from the census was used to allocate more than $675 billion in federal money in 2015. That money is important for getting projects done around the Valley, says La Villa city administrator Arnie Amaro.

“The census is a huge part of it,” Amaro explained. “Obviously you have to show the headcount. Then ultimately, you have to justify it with your finances. A small city like us, our revenues are limited.”

The 2010 census says almost 2,000 people live in the city of La Villa.

“Our actual sign reads 1951,” said Amaro. “But the census is done every 10 years, so we’re hoping to get a more accurate count.”

A small population means not a lot of taxpayers, which means not a lot of money to get big projects such as La Villa’s new wastewater treatment facility built.

“It’s been a big financial headache,” said Amaro.

He says La Villa outgrew their old facility and a new one was badly needed.

“Through proper planning and having our finances intact, we were able to get it fully funded by (the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Forty percent of it is grant, sixty percent of it is loaned,” he said.

The USDA federal funding he’s talking about, the census helped them qualify for it. They break ground on the project Saturday, Feb. 17.

The next census count is two years away.

“It’s a crucial process to this region,” explained Ron Garza, executive director for the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, “Especially how fast we’re growing.”

Garza is already helping to plan the census countdown in the Valley.

“So many federal resources are determined by the census,” Garza said. “Medical benefits, school lunch programs, resources that go to school districts and health care. Infrastructure, roads … All that is done by census tracks.”

But what if the census bureau reinstates a question about citizenship?

“It is a very dicey question. One that we don’t have control over,” Amaro explained.

Some fear it would mean an inaccurate population read for the area, which could mean federal grants are not matching the number of people needing the resources.

“It’s harder for us because we are not immigration. We’re the city and we’re here to provide services and provide a good living environment,” said Amaro.

Amaro tells us their new wastewater treatment facility will allow La Villa to grow three times the size that it is now, something that couldn’t happen without the federal grant.

During the 2010 census, some programs urged people in the country without the proper documents to still participate in the census.

The Census Bureau is legally bound to strict confidentiality requirements. Individual records are not shared with anyone, including federal agencies and law enforcement entities.

By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents' answers with anyone — not the IRS, not the FBI, not the CIA and not with any other government agency. That’s according to their website.

The data collected by the census is also used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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