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Supporters of legislation to create a citizens commission to ensure a full and accurate count of Nebraskans in the 2020 federal census said Wednesday that federal funding allotments for a variety of programs in the state are at stake.

A full count of people living in Nebraska also is necessary to help secure the state's hold on three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, members of the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee were reminded.

Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, sponsor of the legislation (LB436), said an accurate accounting of Nebraskans is "vital to funding the operations of our state."

Gov. Pete Ricketts does not support creation of the so-called Complete Count Commission in Nebraska.

South Dakota is the only other state that is not in the process of creating such a vehicle in advance of the federal census. Thirty-eight states had taken action by the first of the year. 

"As it did in 2010, the State of Nebraska is prepared to support a successful census in 2020 without a committee that would require additional resources," said Taylor Gage, the governor's spokesman.

"The Governor's Office will support the Census Bureau in promoting and encouraging Nebraskans to participate in the census," Gage said.

Cost of operating the proposed Nebraska commission was pegged at $64,000 in fiscal 2019-20 and $47,000 in fiscal 2020-21.

At stake in the head count is $2,096 in federal funds distributed annually to the state per each Nebraska resident based on fiscal 2016 figures, according to Dr. Josie Schafer, director of the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

That includes federal funding allocated to highways, health care, education and children's programs.

Schafer, speaking to the committee as an individual and not as a representative of UNO, said taking action to assure a full count of Nebraskans is "a signal to your constituents that you want them counted."

The 2020 census will establish Nebraska's proportion of federal funding for the following 10 years.  

Over a 10-year span, Nebraska would lose $20,960 in federal funding for each uncounted resident, the Center for Public Affairs Research estimated.

If the statewide census count fails to count 0.1 percent of Nebraska residents, lost federal funding could total $409 million over the 10-year period. 

In fiscal 2016, nearly $4 billion in federal funds were obligated to Nebraska based upon resident counting from the 2010 census and subsequent annual population estimates, according to the research center.  

"Children are the most likely to be undercounted," Julia Tse, speaking for Voices for Children in Nebraska, told the committee.

Especially children of color or living in poverty or in Latino or Native American communities.

"The children who most need federal programs are precisely the kids that are the most difficult to count," Tse said.

The Center for Public Affairs Research has identified 10 Nebraska counties with census tracts where special outreach and promotion efforts ought to be considered.

They include census tracts in Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy, Scotts Bluff, Buffalo, Dakota, Dawson, Madison, Hall and Colfax counties. 

Census counts within Nebraska will also help the Legislature shape the composition of new legislative districts following the 2020 census.

Under terms of Hansen's bill, the governor would be a member of the statewide Complete Count Commission, which would encourage establishment of school-based outreach programs, partnerships with community organizations and a multi-lingual, multimedia informational campaign.  

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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