Counting for Dollars 2020: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds

April 29, 2020

As directed by Congress, over three hundred federal spending programs rely on data derived from the Decennial Census to guide the geographic distribution of funds to states, counties, cities, and households. To better understand the fiscal impacts of the upcoming 2020 Census on states and local areas, the Counting for Dollars Project aims to:

  • identify each federal program that geographically distributes financial assistance based, in whole or part, on data derived from the Decennial Census; and
  • ascertain the connection between Decennial Census accuracy and the equitable distribution of funds to states and local areas.

Latest Releases

Brief #7: Comprehensive Accounting of Census-Guided Federal Spending (FY2017)

Part A: Nationwide Analysis

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 316 federal spending programs relied on 2010 Census-derived data to distribute $1.504 trillion to state and local governments, nonprofits, businesses, and households across the nation. This figure accounted for 7.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product in FY2017.

The bottom line: It’s a lot of money, it’s complicated, and it depends. In other words, census-guided spending makes up a large portion of the economy, the role of census-derived data in guiding that funding is not simple by any means, and the sensitivity of census-guided funding on state and local census accuracy differs greatly from program to program.

Supplementary materials:

List of 316 census-guided programs (.xlsx)

Slide presentation of brief at National League of Cities, November 18, 2019

Video of the Counting Dollars 2020 Census report release press conference, November 18, 2019

Part B: State Estimates

  • This brief provides the total amount of census-guided federal funding by state; that funding as a percentage of state personal income; and the factors that explain relative state economic reliance on census-guided funding.
  • Census-guided funding drives a substantial proportion of the U.S. economy – 9.0% of personal income in 2017. By state, dependence on census-guided spending varies substantially. West Virginia relies more on census-guided funding (16.6% of personal) than any other state, followed by Mississippi (16.4%). Colorado and Utah have the lowest dependence (6.3% and 6.7%, respectively).
  • State differences in reliance on census-guided spending can be explained by differences in the percentage of each state’s population in poverty and the percentage living in rural areas. This finding is logical in that many federal programs are targeted to poor households and rural areas.

Planned forthcoming topics:

C – Medicare

D – FMAP-based Programs

E – State Share Programs

F – Local Share Programs

G – Programs for Older Residents

H – Programs for Children

I – Transportation Programs

J – Housing Programs

K – Environmental Programs

L – Community Health Programs

M – Community Development Programs

N – Rural Programs

Previously Released Briefs

For each state and DC, tables of the local allocation of funds from five federal programs--Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies, Community Development Block Grants--Entitlement, and three workforce training programs authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Adult Activities, Youth Activities, Dislocated Workers)

#5 Distribution of Funding from 55 Large Census-guided Programs by State (May 2019)

This report describes the FY2016 distribution by state of $883.1 billion from 55 large federal expenditure programs based on data derived from the 2010 Census. In the box below, a one-sheet handout is provided for the nation and each state. Also provided are a spreadsheet of 55 programs by the 50 states and DC and a worksheet of characteristics by program (including type of recipients, type of federal financial assistance, census-derived datasets by type of use, and link to Congressional Research Service primer.

Note to users: State totals in this brief and handouts below ($883.1 billion nationwide) have been superseded by those in Brief #7B ($1.504 trillion nationwide). To learn why the new numbers differ from and replace the older ones, see Appendix B of Brief #7B.


#4 Census-derived Datasets Used to Distribute Federal Funds (December 2018)

This report identifies 52 census-derived datasets used by the federal government to geographically allocate financial assistance, tax credits, and procurement contracts.

#3 Federal Funding for Rural America: The Role of the Decennial Census (December 2018)

Fifty-five census-guided federal financial assistance programs are targeted to rural communities. For FY2016, spending across these programs totaled $30.7 billion.

Two-page summary of brief prepared for The Census Project (September 2018)

Census-based state allocation formulas for 17 USDA Rural Development programs: 7 CFR Part 1940 Subpart L

#2 Estimating Fiscal Costs of a Census Undercount to State FMAP-guided Programs (March 2018)

Determination of the fiscal costs of a decennial census undercount on state treasuries for five U.S. Department of Health and Human Services programs that use the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), which is based on the 2010 Census population count. In FY2015, FMAP-determined reimbursements to and payments from state governments totaled $286.1 billion. 

#1 Initial Analysis: 16 Large Census-guided Financial Assistance Programs (August 2017)

The distribution in FY2015 by state of $590 billion from 16 large federal financial assistance programs based on data derived from the 2010 Census. Note: The analyses in this brief have been superseded by those in Brief #7.



Role of the 2020 Census in the Geographic Allocation of Federal Spending

            Presented at the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics quarterly meeting, March 6, 2020

Role of the 2020 Census in the Geographic Allocation of Federal Spending

Presented at National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, March 2, 2020

Census-Guided Federal Spending: A Comprehensive Accounting

            Presented at National League of Cities, November 18, 2019

The Role of the 2020 Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds

Presented at annual conference of Association of Public Data Users, July 10, 2019

Making it Count: The Role of the 2020 Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds by County

Webinar presentation to the National Association of Counties, June 13, 2019

The Role of the 2020 Census in Distributing Federal Funds to Metro Washington

Presented at "Interventions that Work: 2020 Census & Hard-to-Reach Communities," Washington, DC, June 6, 2019

The Census, SCOTUS & The Economy

Podcast interview, Joint Economic Committee Democrats, recorded May 22, 2019, released May 30, 2019

The Economic Impacts of the 2020 Census and Business Uses of Federal Data

Written testimony submitted to Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, May 22, 2019

The Role of the ACS in the Distribution of Federal Funding

Presented at the ACS Data Users Conference, Washington, DC, May 14, 2019

The Role of the 2020 Census in Distributing Federal Funds to Maryland Nonprofits

Presented to Maryland Nonprofits, March 20, 2019

Counting For Dollars: A Study of Census-guided Financial Assistance to Rural America

Presented to the Congressional Rural Caucus, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, October 11, 2018

2020 Census: How the Count Affects State Budgets

Presented to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) annual conference, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, July 23, 2018


Resources for Journalists, Advocates, and Op-Ed Writers


Interactive graphics show how the 2020 census guides federal program funding in each state, Journalist's Resource, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

2020 Census Resources and Legislation by State, National Conference of State Legislatures

Denise-Marie Ordway, "7 tips for covering the 2020 US census," Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, July 9, 2019

Examples of media articles that capably discuss Counting for Dollars 2020 research:

Michael Macagnone, "2020 census affects more than representation, billions at stake," Roll Call, July 22, 2019.
Ally J. Levine and Ashlyn Still, "The Census Question," Reuters Graphics, June 3, 2019 (revised July 11, 2019).
Jacob Fischler, "States spend big on make-or-break 2020 census," Roll Call, May 9, 2019.

Census Tracts with High Likelihood of Low Response -- Maps and Data 

The Low Response Score (LRS): A Metric to Locate, Predict, and Manage Hard-to-Survey Populations -- the basis for ROAM
Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM), Census Bureau
HTC 2020, Mapping Service, City University of New York -- "Mapping Hard to Count (HTC) Communities for a Fair and Accurate 2020 Census"

2010 Census Coverage Measurement: Estimates for States, Places, and Counties (scroll down to dropdown box)

Estimates of the 2010 Census undercount for each state and each county and place with a population of 100,000 or more. Estimates include net undercount and components of census coverage (correct enumerations, erroneous enumerations, omissions, and whole-person imputations).

Terri Ann Lowenthal, "Counting for Dollars: Why It Matters," Leadership Conference Education Fund, April 17, 2018.


Citizenship Question -- Federal Court Expert Reports and Declarations
On the impact of the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census on the geographic allocation of federal financial assistance to states and areas

  • Southern District, New York

Expert report (9/7/18)

Declaration (10/23/18)

  • Northern District, California

Expert report (9/18/18)

Declaration (12/28/18)

  • Maryland

Expert report (10/2/18)

Declaration (1/14/19)