When Nebraska becomes the first in the nation to do something, it’s generally been positive – look at our unicameral Legislature or public power districts, for instance.
But that’s not always the case, as with last week’s news that Nebraska would be the first state to share driver’s license data with the federal government as part of its 2020 census preparations. Most states have wisely declined the offer.
It’s more important that every Nebraskan be counted, regardless of their legal status, than volunteer to lead the line in providing the feds more information than necessary – to the detriment of both the state’s budget and accurate political boundaries.
Yes, Nebraska is in a different position than most states, in that it only grants driver’s licenses to people who can prove they’re in the country legally. But regardless of legal status, the data Nebraskans provide when they apply for a state-issued license is none of the federal government’s business.
For those who worry about needless intrusions by the feds, this is it.
A better approach would have been to emulate Maryland’s tack. When approached by the federal government, officials at the Old Line State offered to share demographic data without personally identifiable info – a suggestion the Census Bureau declined.
Concerns about underreporting are very real, with the loss of federal funds to Nebraska estimated at $21,000 per person missed over the course of a decade. And the Census Bureau’s own research predicted 6.5 million people, involving nearly one in 10 households, wouldn’t respond out of fear they could be punished or deported for answering.
The more people scared out of participating takes money directly out of all of our pockets.
Federal funds comprise nearly 27% of Nebraska’s $9.7 billion budget, with the lion’s share directed toward health care, educational, military and environmental programs. Census figures play a critical role in the distributing of said money, with an undercount potentially harming the state in those areas.
What Nebraska gains from acquiescing to the White House’s query is unclear, at best. But what it could very well lose is measured in dollars – hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them.
It’s also worth noting that the 14th Amendment prescribes the “whole number of persons” in the country be counted in the census.
Because population figures are used to determine political districts and representation in Congress, however, the census has become needlessly politicized. In particular, areas with large immigrant populations are worried – and justifiably so – about political disenfranchisement as a result.
Whether it’s from being just one of five states to not convene a “complete count committee” to this unnecessary participation in a deleterious federal program, Nebraska’s recent actions regarding the 2020 census appear more harmful than helpful.