Why the U.S. Census is Critical for Planning During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond


Planning Assistance in Action

by Kristin Fleckenstein, Director of Public Affairs
with Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner

When people think of the U.S. Census, they often simply connect it to counting the number of people living in the United States and how those figures will determine the number of representatives serving in various levels of government. While that is certainly one of its primary functions, the reach and impact of Census data goes far beyond the issues of representation to affect countless aspects of American life. U.S. Census numbers are used in a myriad of ways for planning across both the public and private sectors of our society and economy. That’s why it is critical for Maryland to get the most complete Census 2020 count possible — accounting for every person living in our state. 

Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is at the forefront of our minds. But did you know just how much the Census contributes to the planning that surrounds federal, state, and local emergency preparedness and response efforts in just this sort of crisis? In future years, Census 2020 data will  inform how many vaccines are sent to the state and in turn to the counties and municipalities. It will set the foundation for emergency services, the number of beds, and life saving equipment needed in hospitals, and by revealing areas of highest need, determine the location and number of clinics built. Public health planning and emergency planning all depend on accurate census data.

Census data derived funding accounts for an allocation of more than $16 billion in federal funding for Maryland.  Medicaid ($6.2B) and Medicare ($1.7B) funding are  directly tied to Census data, as are insurance programs such as Maryland’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP $$290M). School lunch programs ($174M) breakfast programs ($70M) before and aftercare programs ($95M), SNAP ($1.07B), and WIC ($116M) also rely on Census data to determine funding for these critical services. In these unsettling times, Census figures allow for government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses to better understand the needs of our communities and plan how to best serve them.

While these programs and services are underscored in times of uncertainty, Census 2020 data will be used to make sure these entities are ready not only for future natural disasters or public health crises, but will also be used in general planning, development, and forecasting. Federal and state infrastructure plans rely on Census 2020 figures in the classifying and ranking of projects that will best serve residents. For example, identifying the transportation requirements for specific areas including roads, highways, and public transit will be derived from Census 2020 data. Even projects such as water services, drainage, and waste disposal systems for communities from the most populous cities to the most rural of areas will be tied to these important statistics.

In fact, Census 2020 data is at the root of the analysis and research that informs and enables decision makers to  craft the policies to develop and implement the plans impacting Maryland’s social and geographic landscape. Data derived from the Census will also serve to support economic development, revitalization programs, and opportunities for growth. Thus, it is easy to understand in the current environment how important these numbers will be to businesses across the state as communities reopen for dining, shopping, travel; not to mention all the other institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations, and the services they bring that will reinvest in our communities and help Marylanders get back to work. Additionally, Census 2020 will provide information and tools that will help businesses thrive in the years ahead. Finally, as future businesses look to join communities and enhance Maryland’s economy, they will use Census 2020 data to determine important factors for ensuring the success of their endeavors.

Understanding how and why the U.S. Census is critical to building and maintaining strong communities across our state is essential in conveying to our citizenry why this decennial event is vital to the field of planning. The effects of the U.S. Census are far-reaching, touching nearly every aspect of Marylanders’ lives. That is why the Maryland Department of Planning is working tirelessly to support Census 2020, to ensure that each person is counted in our state and every community is fully accounted for and reflected in future plans and programming.

For more information about Census 2020 and how you and your organization can help us attain a Complete Count, contact Kristin Fleckenstein, Director of Public Affairs, at kristin.fleckenstein@maryland.gov or (410) 279-7893.

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