Alabama is headed for an inaccurate census count. U.S. Rep. Martha Roby recently wrote in a letter to Yellowhammer News that she wants "the most accurate count possible in next year’s Census." Unfortunately, she did not mention her support for untested, expensive new questions about immigration. If she knows the consequences of an inaccurate census count, why would she choose to waste taxpayer dollars to add new questions that we know will result in a bad count? U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby has demanded cuts to census funding, but the 2020 Census is already underfunded. Alabamians rely on, need, and deserve accurate data from the constitutionally mandated Census for vital federal funding and new business. Our elected leaders must focus and deliver a fully funded 2020 Census for all Alabamians.

As an Alabama native and resident, I am well aware of the state’s poverty and other challenges. Through my work with the Catholic Committee of the South and NETWORK Lobby, I have seen the complexity of consequences that fall upon those ignored by the system, their dignity denied. Without adequate funding for programs that provide for people experiencing poverty, homelessness, and hunger, our friends and neighbors in need enter a vicious cycle that leaves them behind. Their efforts to survive and maintain their dignity appear futile. An accurate census count means enough federal funding to help those among us who need it the most.

An accurate census is also critical for rural Alabamians. Much of the 2020 Census will take place online, but the Census Bureau hasn't been given enough funding to fully test its new online platform. Can it guarantee that our rural neighbors, who have limited access to the internet, will be counted?

Census data also matters to our economy. Federal small business loan programs will be underfunded if there's a low count. New infrastructure improvements are chosen using census data. As phone and internet companies decide where to roll out new high speed technology, they will rely on census data. Hospitals and clinics use census data to choose new locations. A bad census count affects us all negatively.

The U.S. Constitution mandates a national count of everyone in this country. It is a non-partisan issue, a moral issue, an American issue. But it is up to Congress to do the right thing and fully fund the 2020 Census. If the members of Congress ignore or reject their duty, rural families, people without a permanent address, and other hard-to-count Alabamians will be left out – totally ignored. The consequences of this injustice will be dire for the entire state. We are all compromised when progress is deferred. That's why I am calling on Rep. Martha Roby and Sen. Richard Shelby to focus and honorably meet the task before them: fully fund the 2020 Census and reject any untested questions. We need you to make sure everyone counts. Respect the dignity of each of us, and the integrity of the Constitution.

Leslye Colvin is an activist for Catholic Social Justice in Dothan, Alabama. She works with the Catholic Committee of the South and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

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