At the same time that Tropical Storm Barry is brewing off the Gulf of Mexico, the White House may be stirring up its own environmentally impactful drama. Depending on whom you ask, President Trump is either preparing to announce an executive order to try to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — a move that could jeopardize future U.S. disaster preparedness and recovery efforts — or plans to drop the issue entirely.
Upon first glance, the proposed question doesn’t seem to have any bearing on disaster funding. It asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” (There are multiple response options but only one for “not a citizen,” which does not specify whether a person is in the U.S. legally or not.) While many disaster programs don’t consider the question of citizenship when it comes to recovery efforts, undocumented immigrants’ fears about the possibility of their responses being used against them could cause them not to fill out the survey at all, making the census an undercount in immigrant-heavy communities. And that’s not good especially considering many of those are climate-vulnerable areas, and census data plays a vital role in determining funding levels for countless federal programs — including disaster recovery.
Faced with increasingly severe weather and natural events in a warming world, federal, state, and local agencies rely on census data to inform rigorous preparations and evacuation efforts, rapid response, and long term recovery for affected communities. According to the Census Bureau’s own website, census data is so essential to emergency preparedness and disaster recovery efforts that representatives from the agency now serve on Federal Emergency Management Agency committees.)
Emergency managers preparing for future disasters can look at demographic, socioeconomic and housing data to pinpoint what kind of resources an area needs. For example, evacuation plans, require detailed, accurate census information to identify populations without sufficient resources to evacuate. If, say, the area has a large population of Spanish speakers, the agency knows it will need to deploy more Spanish-speaking staff.
Accessing disaster recovery funding is also census-guided. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program uses data about local populations to effectively distribute and allocate funds to low-income communities. Plus, census data can help planning for future emergencies by making sure health care infrastructure and other necessary institutes and equipped and ready to handle an emergency.
Even if Trump does go the executive order route to add a citizenship question to the census, it’s far from a given outcome. Mere weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could not add its citizenship question given the conflicting justifications the administration presented to the court. According to experts, any executive action taken by Trump would be likely to be met with another round of legal challenges.
This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Here’s why the census citizenship question is a climate change issue on Jul 11, 2019.