As citizens of a democracy, we cherish our right to vote — and rightfully so. Every year or two, we select the people who will make decisions that shape our communities and our lives.

But once every 10 years, we have a chance to make a very different mark on our communities — by filling out our census forms.

We know, the census might feel less dramatic than an election. Yet its consequences are just as significant. Here’s why:

Census figures determine how much money our state receives from the federal government each year — and in a state like ours, every dollar makes an enormous difference.

Let us put this into tangible terms.

Right now, New Mexico receives more than $7 billion in federal funding each year for services for children and families, including Medicaid and Medicare Part B; federal student loans and Pell Grants; special education grants; professional development for teachers; additional support for students; SNAP (food stamps); Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants & Children (WIC); school breakfast, lunch and after-school programs; child care; Early Head Start and Head Start; the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Section 8 housing; the Federal Foster Care Program and Adoption Assistance Program; and more.

That $7 billion represents $3,700 per New Mexican per year, or $37,000 per person over the next decade. Just think of what those funds can deliver: more child care centers to nurture the next generation and support working parents; healthier, more affordable, accessible and nutritious food for children and families; and better educational support at home and in the classroom.

But New Mexico only receives that money when we stand up and count everyone. And unfortunately, we have a history of leaving money on the table.

In the 2010 census, it’s estimated that 4,159 of our young children went uncounted, which meant the loss of more than $150 million in federal funding. The primary reason this happened? Many parents and caregivers didn’t know they needed to count their children on their census forms. In 2020, we stand to lose $38 million over 10 years for undercounting children 0-5 by just 1 percent.

It’s absolutely essential that we count everyone — and that means everyone. The census doesn’t just count people who are citizens — it counts everyone living in the United States. So when you receive your invitation or the full paper form from the U.S. Census Bureau, please fill it out, and include every person living at your address. The Census Bureau will not ask if you are a U.S. citizen, and is not allowed to share your information with any other government agency.

And don’t forget your little ones! Babies born on or before April 1, 2020, should be counted as well. The same goes for nephews, grandchildren, foster children and people not related to you (like a friend and their child) who were residing at your address on April 1.

The 10 minutes you take to fill out your census will bring nearly $40,000 per person to your community over the next decade. Want to make a difference in strengthening your community, improving the quality of your children’s schools, increasing access to health care for pregnant women in your neighborhood and enhancing the opportunities open to young people as they head off to college? Well, here’s your chance.

Elizabeth Groginsky is the Cabinet secretary for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, and Ryan Stewart is the Cabinet secretary for the Public Education Department. Brian Blalock, Cabinet secretary for the Children, Youth and Families Department, also contributed to this piece.

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