Whitmer seeks 'complete' census count, hopes citizenship question gets axed

Payne Lubbers
The Detroit News
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announces the establishment of the 2020 Census Complete Count committee during a press conference at the Southfield Civic Center, June 11, 2019.

Southfield — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created Tuesday a committee seeking a complete and accurate count of all Michigan residents in next year’s national census.

"We encourage every Michigander to take part in the counting process," Whitmer said here at a press conference. "This group is made up of elected officials, community leaders and organizers who are uniquely equipped to ensure every voice is heard."

In 2010, 78% of Michigan residents mailed in a census response, above the national average of 74%. Livonia had the highest participation rate in the country among cities with populations of at least 100,000, with 88% of its residents mailing in a census response.

The U.S. Constitution requires a full count of the U.S. residents every 10 years. States rely on accurate census data to ensure they receive appropriate federal funding and accurate representation in the U.S House of Representatives.

"This impacts how much federal funding will come to each community, it will impact what comes into our state. It will impact our ability to create jobs and provide housing, to build schools and to provide education, as well as desperately fixing the roads," Whitmer said. 

Each year, the federal government allocates more than $675 billion in federal funding to states, counties and municipalities nationwide. State programs that receive federal funding include Medicare, Medicaid, Section 8 housing and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

Declines in census response rates can significantly hurt municipal and state budgets, said Alexis Wiley, chief of staff to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Programs such as Medicare and food stamps rely on residents ensuring they are counted in the census, she said. 

"For us, over a 10-year period, you lose $18,000 per person that isn't counted," Wiley said.  

Preparation for the 2020 census has been controversial since the Trump administration's Commerce Department decided the Census Bureau would ask about U.S. residents' citizenship status as part of the population count. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide a case involving the Trump administration's policy. 

Whitmer said she hopes the court strikes down the citizenship question. Critics have argued the citizenship question will discourage illegal immigrants from participating in the population count. 

"Regardless, we are going to have a robust, multicultural effort to make sure everyone is counted in this state," Whitmer said. 

The last time a citizenship question was included on the short census form that goes to most U.S. households was in 1950, according to National Public Radio. Beginning in 1970, questions about citizenship were included in the long-form questionnaire that goes to about one in six U.S. residents.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer chats with Southfield council member Donald Fracassi before a press conference to announce the establishment of the 2020 Census Complete Count committee at the Southfield Civic Center, June 11, 2019.

The Census Complete Count Committee will be administered by Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and 63 members from various communities and state organizations.

The committee’s goals include identifying and overcoming possible barriers to full census participation, as well as promoting participation in the census.

"This isn't about party, this isn't about a particular community. This is about the Michigan community, about every single one of us," Whitmer said. “Everyone in Michigan counts. We need to make sure everyone in Michigan gets counted."