Village Earth

Why Your Tribe Should Challenge the Federal Census


Now that the Federal Government has published its final rule November 22, 2016 for the Indian Housing Block Grant, Tribes across the country are bracing for the impact that low figures could have on their State and Federal Funding. A short list of programs that use formulas based on the Federal Census include: The Indian Housing Block Grant, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, The Child Care and Development Fund, Social Services Block Grant, Administration on Aging, Special Programs for the Aging, Title III, Part C, Nutrition, Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, Community Services Block Grant, funding for local schools, road construction and repair. It is widely understood that there is a selection bias in the Federal Census that tends to under-count minorities and over-count the wealthy. According to a 2010 Report from Government Accountability Office (GAO):

Minorities, renters, and children, for example, are more likely to be undercounted by the census while more affluent groups, such as people with vacation homes, are more likely to be enumerated more than once. As census data are used to apportion seats in Congress, redraw congressional districts, and allocate billions of dollars in federal assistance to states and local governments, improving coverage and reducing the differential undercount are critical.

This is especially true for hard to count populations like Native Americans who often live in areas that can lack basic infrastructure such as marked roads, street names and addresses, or even telephones. This dilemma is illustrated by two successful Census challenges Village Earth participated in on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota. In the case of Pine Ridge, the 2000 Federal Census calculated the American Indian Alaskan Native (AIAN) population to be 15,861. Tribal official knew this figure could not be accurate. Using survey data from Dr. Kathleen Pickering at Colorado State University and GIS mapping support from Village Earth, we calculated the population to be 28,787 and used our data to challenge the data HUD used in the formula for the Indian Housing Block Grant for Pine Ridge. Our challenge was accepted by HUD and resulted in the following.

  • 81% increase in the HUD recognized population (from 15,861 to 28,787)‏
  • 31% increase in the number of AIAN households with less than 30% median family income.
  • 62% increase in the number of AIAN households between 30% and 50% median family income.
  • 137% increase with more than 1 person per room or without kitchen or plumbing.
  • $1, 292,000 increase in Pine Ridge’s IHBG Allocation starting in 2006

Unfortunately HUD had been using the 2000 numbers of almost 5 years before we provided them with the more accurate data. That translates to nearly $6,460,000 in funding that should have gone to Pine Ridge to address the longstanding shortage of quality-affordable housing, not to mention all the other programs that were shorted by being undercounted. A year later, based on our success at Pine Ridge, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe asked for assistance. While the outcomes were not as dramatic as for Pine Ridge, it was still significant. Our data, which again was accepted by HUD, meant the following for Rosebud.

  • 230% increase in the number of AIAN households with household expenses greater than 50% of income.
  • 42% increase in the number of AIAN households with less than 30% median family income.
  • 34% increase in the number of AIAN households with less than 80% of median family income.
  • $713,150 increase in IHBG Allocation in 2007

For the Rosebud Reservation, this means the Tribe was shorted over $4,000,000 for housing alone during the 6 years that HUD was using the low 2000 Federal Census numbers. Village Earth has supported Census Challenges on the following Reservations

  • Red Lake, MN
  • Fort Berthold, ND
  • Turtle Mountain, ND
  • Cheyenne River, SD
  • Pine Ridge, SD
  • Lower Brule, SD

For more information about challenging the Federal Census, contact David Bartecchi at Village Earth by email at [email protected].

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