Counting Everyone in Arlington Affects our Bottom Line

The 2020 Census is probably not anybody’s idea of a sexy topic. But ensuring an accurate 2020 Census count is vital to both getting the number of congressional seats a state deserves and to the day to day effective functioning of government.

As we currently sit, the upcoming 2020 Census is going to be a disaster.

The 2020 Census brings with is a technological redesign that relies on “many new and modified IT systems.” These changes include encouraging respondents to use the Internet and telephone instead of a paper survey, relying more heavily on local data, and using field technology to minimize data and increase productivity.

While these technological advances should make the census more cost efficient and accurate in the long run, the proprietary designs of the technology have been costly with well documented difficulties in implementation. This is in addition to the leadership vacuum created when former Census Director John H. Thompson resigned in the summer of 2017. The Trump administration has not yet appointed anyone to fill the position.

Beyond the institutional challenges are the societal concerns that could depress responses to a census questionnaire: cybersecurity threats, the climate of fear among immigrant communities regardless of their documented status and the growing digital divide between urban and rural areas and between wealthy and poor communities.

Why does this all matter?

First the Constitution requires a census every 10 years and declares it the official number for state populations in determining congressional representation. If the census undercounts individuals, a state could get less representation than it is entitled to.

The census has historically undercounted low-income households and households where English is not the first language. While Arlington is a largely affluent jurisdiction, an estimated 9 percent of Arlingtonians live in poverty. Moreover, a language other than English is spoken in nearly 30 percent of Arlington households.

Second, the federal government often relies on census data in allocating funding to state and local governments. More than 130 federal programs rely on census data to distribute funding to the states, including Medical Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP or food stamps), Highway Planning and Construction, Special Education grants and Head Start. In 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia received more than $10.2 billion from census-guided federal grant programs, which was approximately 20 percentof the state budget that year.

With the rapid population growth in Arlington and Northern Virginia over the past decade, an inaccurate census could lead to lower revenue to the Commonwealth to implement crucial programs.

What can we do?

First, we need to urge Congress to fully fund the 2020 Census. Last fall, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross requested the Census Bureau’s budget be increased by $187 million in FY 2018 to address some of the technological needs; however, that request did not include additional funding for the Integrated Partnership and Communications program that is crucial in addressing factors that may depress the census response rate.

Congress’ recent Continuing Resolution to fund the government did raise the Census’ budget for FY 2018, but only by $182 million – under what is needed just for the technological enhancements.

Second, although the census count is a federal responsibility, Arlington can take the small steps it can to increase the likelihood of an accurate count. For example, local and state governments can complete a Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) to help ensure that census workers have accurate addresses to survey in each jurisdiction.

In 2010, Arlington County government completed the LUCA and will be doing so again in 2018. In 2010, Arlington County also encouraged residents to participate in the census through the Complete Count Committee, a public campaign in which community leaders work to boost census participation. The County plans to once again launch the Complete Count Committee effort in 2019.

Given the unprecedented issues facing the 2020 Census, it is more important than ever for Arlington and the Commonwealth of Virginia to do whatever they can to ensure an accurate count. Not doing so will have long-term implications for both Virginia’s voice across the river and our own bottom line.

Maggie Davis is Deputy Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee and former President of the Arlington Young Democrats. She lives in the Radnor Heights- Ft. Myer neighborhood and works as an emergency management law and policy analyst.

Raise Virginia’s Felony Larceny Threshold

By Bill Rice

Although Virginia’s gubernatorial race was filled with contentious disagreement, there were a few subjects where the candidates saw eye-to-eye.

One such subject was Virginia’s felony larceny threshold. Both Governor-Elect Ralph Northam and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie agreed: Virginia’s current threshold of $200 is far too low, counter to a productive society and effective criminal justice system, and morally repugnant.

Virginia Code § 18.2-95 defines the theft of anything valued $200 or more as grand larceny — a felony. Anything less constitutes petit larceny, a misdemeanor. This threshold hasn’t been altered since 1980 and remains tied for the nation’s lowest. Accounting for inflation, $200 in 1980 is tantamount to nearly $600 today.

Punishment for grand larceny in Virginia includes either 1) a minimum of a year in state prison or 2) up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500.

Those convicted of grand larceny also face, as ex-offenders, barriers to housing, healthcare, and employment. In Virginia, felons are prohibited from voting, jury duty, running for office, and firearm ownership.

Denying individuals such civic and economic participation not only has moral implications, but also negatively affects our economy and society. People who could be productive, contributing members of society are instead ostracized and pushed back into the costly criminal justice system.

This doesn’t just pertain to adults: with larceny being the top category for 2017 juvenile arrests in Virginia, it’s no surprise our Commonwealth leads the nation in the “school-to-prison pipeline,” with juveniles referred into the criminal justice system at three times the national average.

Furthermore, can we honestly say that $200 today is a large enough sum of money to warrant punishment from which it is very hard to rebuild a productive life?

We regularly adjust other monetary legal thresholds in accordance with inflation, such as lobbyist contribution reporting laws for political committees or auditing laws for organizations doing business with the federal government.

If large corporations and politicians regularly benefit from reasonable adjustments to legal monetary thresholds, why shouldn’t this apply to a confused youth caught shoplifting a pair of Beats headphones?

Opponents of raising the threshold, like the National Retail Federation (NRT), argue that such action would increase shoplifting and other theft. But there is an abundance of facts that say otherwise.

The most extensive data on this subject comes from a 2016 Pew Charitable Trusts study on 28 states that raised their felony larceny thresholds between 2001 and 2011.

Pew concluded that “changes in state felony thresholds have not interrupted the long nationwide decline in property crime and larceny rates that began in the early 1990s,” adding that “the amount of a state’s felony threshold…is not correlated with its property crime and larceny rates.”

Similarly, opponents of raising Virginia’s felony larceny threshold often argue that California’s Proposition 47, which, among other things, raised the state’s felony larceny threshold to $950, led to an increase in property crime.

However, Proposition 47 was a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that did much more than simply raise the larceny threshold. Also, it has only been in effect for about two years, leading the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice to say “it is too early to conclusively determine whether or not Prop 47 has had an impact on crime.”

NRT also cites unscientific information from its annual survey on organized retail crime (ORC) to argue that retail crime is on the rise. But this survey draws from an extremely limited and unrepresentative sample size and puts retailers’ perceptions ahead of hard data.

For example, the survey claims “100 percent of retailers surveyed believe they have been a victim of ORC in the past 12 months” without actual data supporting this belief. In fact, most of the reliable data available on these subjects clearly contradicts such claims.

Despite the overwhelming data, people may still have concerns. Thankfully, the Virginia State Crime Commission presents a compromise — raise the felony larceny threshold but create two types of petit larceny.

Larceny up to $200 would still constitute petit larceny with the current penalties. Larceny between $200 and the new monetary threshold would constitute “Aggravated Petit Larceny,” a Class 1 misdemeanor with heavier penalties.

Whether Virginia raises its felony larceny threshold to $500, $1,000, or more, one thing is clear: the current threshold is too low and there is bipartisan support to raise it reasonably. Let’s make it happen.

Bill Rice is co-chair of the Arlington Young Democrats’ Justice and Immigration Caucus. He serves as a volunteer in the Arlington community and has worked on a number of political campaigns. He currently works as a government contractor. He has previously written about Virginia’s felony larceny threshold for the Richmond Public Interest Law Review.