The 2020 census will be the perfect opportunity to capture a true picture of modern rural America. Information collected in the census will be used to determine which areas of our country are considered rural, and it will look at the characteristics of rural communities in order to make the necessary funding decisions for federal programs that serve these communities. Rural classification is based on an accurate census count of everyone living in the country, in order to do so, it will be necessary to work around the challenges that rural communities face like limited internet access, remote geographies and the concentration of hard to count populations. Residents in rural Kansas, specifically southwest Kansas have much at stake in the 2020 census, unfortunately, census participation has been historically lower for our communities with an average of 70% participation rate, something that needs to change if we want to see our communities thrive.
A preliminary analysis performed by George Washington University indicated that over 300 federal funded programs rely on census data, of those programs, 60 fund programs exclusively for rural communities issuing over $30 billion to rural areas across the country. Several federal programs use census data to determine eligibility, for example, many of the USDA assistance programs dictate that recipients must live in a rural area. Many other programs prioritize applications based on census classification of rural community. According to the analysis from the University of Washington, just in the year 2016, the state of Kansas received $231,552,960 in funding for six rural specific assistance programs which are dependent on data derived from the census. Rural specific funding includes water and waste disposal systems funding and business and industry loans. Formula Grants for Rural Areas, are grants that serve a specific public need in rural communities like the operation of public transit. Rural Electrification Loans are direct loans that assist businesses in rural communities with electric infrastructure projects. Federal funding is absolutely essential for businesses and local governments to help rural residents prosper. In 2016 the federal government distributed $29,060,803,252 to 38 different agriculture financial assistance programs, funds that were determined from the results of the 2010 census. These funding made it possible in 2017 for 36,143 farms in the state of Kansas, which make up 61.7% of all Kansas farms to benefit from government subsidies.
With the 2020 census quickly approaching it is important for southwest Kansas residents to understand how the census impacts everyone living in our community. Census data will benefit each and every one of us in southwest Kansas, as this data is used by federal agencies to plan for government programs designed to benefit our rural population and to identify agricultural areas in order to properly distribute funding.
Blanca Soto is the southwest Kansas campaign director for the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and a member of the Kansas Complete Count Committee.