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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 9, 2001

Hawai'i programs could lose big federal bucks

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i programs that use population-based formulas to calculate federal grant dollars could lose $105.5 million in the next 10 years because of an undercount in last year's census, according to a report commissioned by Democrats on a census oversight panel.

The analysis, released Tuesday and conducted by the firm Pricewaterhouse- Coopers at the request of Democratic members of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, is adding fuel to a drawn-out political debate over whether the Census Bureau should adjust raw data in the 2000 population count to avoid missing millions of Americans.

Democrats have called for the use of adjusted population estimates to make up for what they say is an undercount of minorities, the poor and children. But Republicans have said adjustments would alter the constitutional purpose of the census being a raw headcount used to redraw political boundaries.

In Hawai'i, 26,747 people may have been overlooked by last year's census, according to the report, representing an undercount rate of about 2.16 percent of the population, if adjusted statistically.

If the census undercount is not corrected, it will mean a loss for Hawai'i of $105.5 million in federal money, the study estimates.

"That's significant," said U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawai'i. "That's $10 million a year. That's big money."

Although raw census numbers will be used to redraw congressional and legislative district boundaries, Congress is still battling over whether adjusted data will be used for calculating billions of dollars in federal aid.

The most vulnerable programs, the report says, range from Medicaid, which pays for health care for the poor and disabled, to block grants that help states pay for child care and vocational education and substance abuse prevention services.

At the Hawai'i Department of Health, Betty Wood, who coordinates a preventive health and health services block grant, is looking out for her program that helps pay for about 15 small projects such as the immigrant health program.

If her grant money is cut, Yuk Pang Law could see a chain reaction.

Law is director of Hawai'i Immigrant Services in Chinatown, where she spent months trying to educate immigrants about the need to fill out a census form to gain benefits such as the health program.

The problem, she said, is that many of the people most affected by the money that could be cut because of an undercount are the same ones the census missed.

"It's not going to effect them directly," Law said. "It's not dollars going into their pockets. It's programs they're eligible for."

The PricewaterhouseCoopers study says a disproportionately higher number of individuals in inner cities were missed by the census. Law says those tend to be minorities, children, immigrants and homeless people, the ones who most need services.

This week's census report is based on an analysis of the undercount by Eugene P. Ericksen, a professor of sociology and statistics at Temple University who was retained by President Clinton's appointees on the census monitoring board.

While the report is the latest move in the struggle over interpreting census results, the findings shouldn't be overblown, said state economist Pearl Imada Iboshi.

"It's not that off," she said of the population count, adding that people should remember the grant money is spread out over 10 years.

The undercount is a cause for concern, Iboshi said, but it's more an example of why the state urges people to fill out the census forms than it is a crisis.

Reach Tanya Bricking at tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.