Concern that the 2020 U.S. census won't show an accurate count of the state's population, jeopardizing millions of dollars in future federal funds as a result, the Colorado House gave its initial nod to a bill Wednesday to encourage residents to fill out their census forms.
Under House Bill 1239, the state would offer grants to various local governments and nonprofit groups to create education, promotion or outreach programs designed to encourage as many people as possible to participate in the census.
An accurate count of Coloradans has a direct impact on how many federal dollars the state receives for everything from highways to health care, said its two main sponsors, Reps. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton.
"About a third of our budget is determined by federal dollars," Caraveo said. "About 800 billion dollars every year that the federal government parses out across the country are determined by census data. What the data determines is how much of that money, how big of a slice of the pie is going to come to Colorado."
Republicans, however, argued that the federal government already has dedicated more money to the U.S. Census Bureau than that agency requested, said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone.
As a result, there's no reason why Colorado should make $12 million available in grant money toward the effort.
"There are people who are hired specifically in the states where the census is being conducted," Saine said.
"They actually do a fairly good job at this. If there's one arm of the federal government that does an excellent job as far as groundwork goes, it is the Census Bureau," Saine said.
Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim, said she has worked as a census taker in past years and said there are several people in rural areas who don't like the federal government and don't want to be counted.
Still, Lewis said those census takers are adept at counting people because they know that translates to state and federal dollars for their counties.
"Your counties had some of the highest percentages of undercount in 2010," countered Tipper. "Forty-five percent, Baca County. Twenty-five percent, Bent. For your counties, that's $390 million to $605 million a year in missed federal funds."
Part of Democrats' concern with the 2020 census is a question that President Donald Trump wants to include, one that asks a person's citizenship. They fear that question will scare off people, even those who are here legally.
In addition to federal money, the other issue on the line with each decennial count is it also determines how many representatives each state has in Congress. Colorado has seven congressional districts, but is expected to qualify for an eighth seat.
The bill needs a final House vote, which could come as early as today, before heading to the Senate.