LINCOLN - Advocates for children in Nebraska are working to ensure that all of the children are counted in the upcoming 2020 Census, including children younger than five years old and not yet in school.
Numbers from the once-a-decade tally play a big role in determining how many federal tax dollars return to Nebraska over the next 10 years.
With nearly $8 billion a year on the line, Federico Vicente, immigrants and communities organizer with Nebraska Appleseed, says his advocacy group is focusing outreach efforts on historically undercounted populations.
"Which are immigrant communities, refugee communities throughout the state of Nebraska," he states. "Our work is concentrating mostly on rural communities, which tend to be the highly undercounted communities."
In 2017, Nebraska received nearly $8 billion for programs, including school meals, Head Start and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Census numbers also determine funding for veterans' and seniors' programs, community and health centers, road improvements and more.
Starting next week, households will receive an invitation by mail with details on how to participate in the census. Forms can be filled out online, by phone or by mail.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but many worry the controversy has created a chilling effect that could lead to an undercount.
Vicente says all data collected in the census is confidential for 72 years under federal law. Anyone breaking that law can be sentenced to five years behind bars and receive a fine of up to $250,000.
"This information will not be shared to other types of agencies, for example ICE or Homeland Security," he stresses. "This information is specifically just for the Census Bureau."
Children younger than five may not yet benefit from school-based programs, but Vicente says it's important for them to be counted now so that funding is in place when they do enter school.
For families where children spend time in different households, the general rule is to enter the home where they spend more than 50% of their time, or wherever they're staying on April 1.