The Daily Q: How much money does NYC really lose on Census undercount?

It’s official: New York City is stuck for the next decade with the U.S. Census Bureau’s population count of fewer than 8.2 million, now that the bureau has rejected Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s appeal asserting that enumerators had missed at least 50,000 New Yorkers.

Bloomberg submitted the appeal last August, and his administration had fought hard to adjust the Census count upward – in part because each head counted translates into more federal aid for the city.

But how much more, and for what? In today’s Daily Q we ask: How exactly does undercounting of New York City’s population affect federal aid?

If you have information or insight to share, write us, tweet @thenyworld or comment below.

What we found

Undercounting could cost the City more than $100 million in federal funds.

According to a Government Accountability Office report in 2007 on the importance of the 2010 Census data, official population figures “play a key role in the allocation of many grant programs” totalling billions of dollars each year to state and local governments.

A Brookings Institution study, showed that 215 federal programs distributed almost $447 billion in fiscal 2008 based on the census data collected in 2000. More than 80 percent of that money was split up among states and the nation’s capital, and mostly funded Medicaid payments, and highway planning and construction programs.

Programs employ formulas that depend on census data — including total population, individuals in poverty, lagging population growth, households in overcrowded homes etc. — to calculate each state’s aid allocation. The GAO found in a study that the accuracy of state and local population estimates “may have an effect, though modest, on the allocation of grant funds among the states,” and that at “a given level of appropriation, any changes in the state’s population relative to other states’ changes would have a proportional impact on the allocation of funds to the state.”

The Brookings Institute, a Washington-based liberal think tank, also showed that in the fiscal year 2008, Washington, D.C., received the most aid per capita at $4,656, followed by Vermont, Alaska, New York and Massachusetts. (The lowest amount went to Nevada, at just $742 per person.)

Due to the complexity and variety of program formulas used to bang out aid numbers, it is near impossible to pin down the exact amount New York City is losing to undercounting its population. If, however, we were to use New York’s federal aid of $2,301.14 per resident in 2008, those 50,000 and more New Yorkers that Bloomberg is saying the Census Bureau left out could have brought at least an estimated $105 million more in federal dollars.

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