Econ 919 — Counting on federal income

Feb 21, 2020


In March, Alaskans can expect to find a census questionnaire in the mail. It takes 10 minutes to fill out and is only done once every 10 years.

The consequences for an individual of not completing and returning their census are, really, pretty minimal. The worst that will happen is you’ll get reminders in the mail and a census worker might — politely — end up at your door.

But the consequences for state and local governments of not getting an accurate count could be costly.

Much of the federal funding that is distributed to states is divvied up based on population.

“It does matter to Alaska’s economy — $3.2 billion of annual federal funding allocation is determined by our census data. The federal funding comes into over 70 local programs in Alaska,” said Jenny Carroll, with the city of Homer, who is part of a Complete Count Committee for the Kenai Peninsula Borough to help facilitate the 2020 census.


A little under half of that $3.2 billion funds Medicaid in Alaska, with the next largest chunk going to highway planning and construction projects. Medicare, low-income housing, nutrition and education programs get about 20 percent.

“And in our communities, nonprofits receive about 18 percent of that $3.2 billion in direct federal funding. What does that do? It’s for economic development and jobs. It helps us with our highway system. It helps take care of our schools and helps with workforce development, our public safety, our health care and social services. All which are very important for a healthy economy in the state,” Carroll said.

Federal funding to the state gets further divvied up by region. Tim Dillon, director the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, says the borough has a stake in getting a good count of its residents.

“Each individual that gets counted means around $3,500, minimum, to the borough,” Dillon said.

That $3.2 billion a year could be more, as Alaska’s population has been underrepresented in previous counts.

“Alaska has the lowest participation rate in the census in the nation, at a 65 percent rate,” Carroll said.

Organizers are hoping to improve the census count this year, but it’s still going to be tough. Alaska is spread out and rural areas are difficult to reach. There are language barriers and some residents are wary of divulging information.

All census information is kept confidential — it’s actually a felony for a census worker to share information. As for the questions, if you’ve applied for a permanent fund dividend, you’ve already given the state government more information than you’ll be asked in the census.

The official census day is April 1 — no, not fooling, as the federal government doesn’t have a sense of humor. If residents haven’t returned their mailed questionnaire or filed their census online at that point, they might have a census worker knock on their door. Workers are still being hired to canvass the Kenai Peninsula.

“And it’s kind of great because it’s $28 an hour and flexible hours and It only lasts eight weeks, so I tell people if you have another job don’t quit it because it’s only part-time. But, anyway, it’s a lot of fun,” said Mark Larson a recruiter for census jobs in Kenai.

You can find out more about census employment at 2020census.gov/jobs, or call the Job Center in Kenai at 335-3010. More information on the census in Alaska is available at alaskacounts.org.

This week’s number $15,000,010. That’s the amount of an unsuccessful bid made by Anchorage-based HEX, LLC, to purchase Furie Operating Alaska, LLC assets, primarily in Cook Inlet. Furie is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A new offer is in the works from Kachemak Exploration, LLC, which is based in Delaware.