Too few censuses threaten federal food and health reserve programs

The 2020 census lost nearly 1 in 17 Native Americans living on the reserves, which could very well lead to sufficient federal funding for key health, nutrition, and social programs in remote communities with high poverty rates and poor access to services.

The census counted 9.7 million people identified as Native American or Alaska Native in 2020 — alone or in combination with another race or ethnicity — compared to 5.2 million in 2010. 6% based on a demographic analysis of census accuracy. Indigenous peoples on reserves have a rough history: they lost almost 5% in 2010, according to the analysis.

At least 5 out of 5 Native Americans live on reserves, according to previous census data. More detailed data on the Native American population for the 2020 census will be released next year.

Census numbers help determine how much money is set aside for various programs, such as health care, social services, education, and infrastructure. For example, at the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana, the president of a food-dining hall that is partially dependent on census numbers is worried that the approximate number will make it difficult for all families in need of free meals this year. them.

The food pantry – run by FAST Blackfeet, the Food Access and Sustainability Team – serves about 400 homes a week, Danielle Antelop said. The 2020 census puts the Blackfeet Reserve population at 9,900, and Antelop said, “it doesn’t reflect our numbers.”

37 percent of people in the Blackfeet Reserve lived below the poverty line from 2014 to 2018, compared to the statewide average of 13%, according to the American Community Survey.

“I see the problem in the sub-census as related to the representation of need,” Antelop said.

Antelope said he has seen first-hand what it means for people living on reserves to go through the cracks. Her mother was a bus driver who earned too much money to qualify for federal income-based food assistance programs, but it was almost not enough to feed her children properly. The family was dependent on processed food from the frozen passage.

Where products are expensive or difficult to find, cheap packaged meals are the only option. “As we now know, these cheap foods are related to health inequalities,” Antelop said. “And those health inequalities are big in color communities and tribal communities.”

Incorrect census counts are not limited to Reserve Native Americans. Blacks (3%) and Hispanics (5%) living in the United States were also underestimated. Meanwhile, whites outperformed whites (2%).

Among U.S. states, Montana has the fourth largest share of the indigenous population, at 6%, and Native Americans are the second largest race or ethnic group in the state, behind people identified as white. The percentage goes up to 9% when it includes people who identify as “American Indians and Alaska Natives alone or in combination with another race or ethnicity.” Most of the indigenous people live in one of Montana’s seven reserves or in a nearby town or county.

The Health Service of India, the federal agency required to provide medical care to most of the country’s native population, receives funding, in part, based on the census. In 2019, the last year the data is available nationwide, IHS spent $ 4,078 per person, according to agency data. In comparison, Medicaid, the federal health insurance for people with low incomes and certain disabilities, spent more than double that rate, $ 8,436. A note from the U.S. Government Accounting Office noted that the availability of per capita comparisons is limited because federal programs vary widely.

Health gaps were seen during the pandemic. In Montana, the leading cause of death for indigenous peoples in 2020 was COVID-19, mainly due to other conditions that people had, such as respiratory diseases, obesity and diabetes. Heart disease was the second leading cause of death.

Leonard Smith, CEO of Billings-based Native American Development Corp., a nonprofit that provides technical support and financial services to small businesses, said the more accurate census counts would bring “more funding from the federal government as well as state government funding.” . . “I think people are realizing that the local population is much larger than what they are complaining about, so it makes it a higher priority. It’s all about numbers, ”Smith said.

A more accurate count can help improve booking infrastructure and housing.

Federal housing support remains inaccessible to many tribal reserve homes. Research shows a strong relationship between housing and better health outcomes. A 2020 study published in the journal BMC Public Health found that nearly 70% of people who had secured and stable housing reported “significantly better” health conditions nine to 12 months later than those who suffered from insecure housing.

According to a 2017 report by the National Assembly of the American Indians, more than 15% of homes on local reservations or in surrounding areas were overcrowded, meaning there was more than one person per room, including living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and bedrooms. closed portals – compared to 2% of the population in the other population.

Although a quarter of households earned less than 50% of the federal poverty line, the report says only about 12% received federal housing assistance. Census data is used to determine funding for housing and community development grants.

“When a census undermines a native community, it has a direct and long-lasting impact on the resources the community receives: schools and parks, health facilities, and roads, for example,” said Native American Deputy Director Michael Campbell. Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado.

The impact of subscriptions on funding outweighs budgets and social programs. It creates a feeling that their presence is less important among indigenous peoples than others, which leads to political disenfranchisement and personal injury, tribal members said.

“Since we have been accustomed to not being counted on for so many years, we are not holding on to our government’s desire to create space now,” Antelop said. “When we have specific numbers that reflect our community, our voice is heard, and we can get services and funding that better reflect our community.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and questioning, KHN it is one of the three main operating programs KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit organization that provides information to the nation on health issues.

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