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Formula Grants: Census Data Are among Several Factors That Can Affect Funding Allocations

GAO-09-832T Published: Jul 09, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 09, 2009.
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In past years, the federal government has annually distributed over $300 billion in federal assistance through grant programs using formulas driven in part by census population data. Of the more than $580 billion in additional federal spending, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will obligate an estimated additional $161 billion to federal grant programs for fiscal year 2009. The U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) puts forth tremendous effort to conduct an accurate count of the nation's population, yet some error in the form of persons missed or counted more than once is inevitable. Because many federal grant programs rely to some degree on population measures, shifts in population, inaccuracies in census counts, and methodological problems with population estimates can all affect the allocation of funds. This testimony discusses (1) how census data are used in the allocation of federal formula grant funds and (2) how the structure of the formulas and other factors can affect those allocations. This is based primarily on GAO's issued work on various formula grant programs and the allocation of federal funds.

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