What is the purpose of conducting the census?

The purpose of the census is to conduct an official count of population and housing and disseminate the results to the president, states, and American people. The goal of the 2020 Census is to count everyone once, and only once, in the right place. 

The census provides information to:

  • Allocate seats to the states for the House of Representatives (which is mandated in the Constitution);
  • Inform the redistricting of Congressional Districts;
  • Enforce voting rights and civil rights legislation; and
  • Determine the method for the American Community Survey (ACS), which takes place annually.
    • These results, such as crime, poverty rates, and publishing health and education data, are used to support important government functions. 

Federal Funding Streams 

Data from the census is also used to distribute multiple federal funding streams. In fiscal year 2015, for example, census data was used to determine the allocation of $675 billion for 132 federal programs, Head Start being one of them. 

It’s important to note that total Head Start appropriations (funding) is not impacted by the census. Head Start is a non-defense discretionary program, meaning that funding levels for the program are determined by Congress each year through the annual appropriations process. 

Head Start funding is based on a formula that is written in the Head Start Act (see page 14). This formula specifies that some funds are allocated to local entities by the Secretary of HHS based on state-level population data—which comes from, you guessed it, the census. Because of this, it is critical that the 2020 Census has an accurate number of families living in poverty with children under five. 

More importantly, census data is used more directly to calculate federal funds for programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Children’s Health Insurance Program(CHIP or SCHIP), programs that have a substantial impact on many Head Start children and families.