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NM census group awards $100k in outreach grants

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sometimes the best way to make money is to spend money.

NM Counts 2020, an outreach campaign aimed at increasing census participation in New Mexico, recently awarded grants totaling $100,000 to 15 nonprofits to count historically undercounted populations.

Over a 10-year period, one uncounted person would amount to $30,000 lost in federal funding for the city and county toward improving infrastructure, health care, education and more, according to the City of Albuquerque website.

The nonprofit groups will focus on minority, housing insecure, transient, transgender communities and others. The Governor’s Office estimates that nearly 43% of the state’s population, about 900,000 people, live in hard-to-count areas.

Mesilla Valley Community of Hope was awarded $10,000 to focus on counting homeless populations in Mesilla Valley and Doña Ana County. The group’s clients who rely on public programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, feel the effects of federal dollars from the census count the quickest, said Nicole Martinez, the executive director.

“People who have been marginalized by homelessness often at times feel like it doesn’t matter if they get counted or not – it’s that same idea like their vote doesn’t count when in fact it counts immensely,” Martinez said.

There are a lot of variables that contribute to communities being hard to count, including infrastructure, lack of technology and geography, especially for Native American communities. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated one out of every seven Native Americans on reservations went uncounted in the 2010 Census.

New Mexico has 24 federally recognized Native American groups. Of those, 19 are pueblos and five are nonpueblo groups. The largest of the nonpueblo groups is the Navajo Nation with an area of almost 27,000 square miles, stretching from parts of western New Mexico, through northeastern Arizona and into southeastern Utah. There are more than 298,000 members. Roughly, 106,800 members live in New Mexico.

Jon Ghahate, a member of Laguna and Zuni pueblos and cultural educator at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, said it’s a “chicken and the egg issue” when it comes to reaching populations in rural or isolated areas.

“If you don’t get enough people to participate, then they don’t get the numbers, they don’t get the funding, then you can’t add on or improve infrastructure issues,” Ghahate said.

Sometimes lack of information about the census can get in the way – or even misinformation. Before the Supreme Court blocked the move to add a citizenship question in July, the thought of the question made some New Mexico communities fearful that their information would be used against them. The American Immigration Council estimated in 2015 that 196,955 immigrants live in New Mexico – roughly 9.5% of the state’s population – with 70% of immigrants being from Mexico.

Many undocumented immigrants start their own businesses and across the country contribute over $11 billion in state and local taxes, according to a 2017 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Due to their status, they are unable to apply for most services such as public housing, social security and, for programs like SNAP, must wait upward of five years with the status of “Lawful Present Resident.”

“This is why we need to make sure that all our families are counted,” said Rosalinda Dorado-Mendoza, civic engagement organizer with El Centro de Igualdad y Centros. “That way we can all have the federal funds that we need for our schools, our hospitals, our roads and any resources we need to ensure all our families thrive.”